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OSHA Stepped Up Inspections and High Penalties in 2023

Federal OSHA is notoriously underfunded and understaffed for an agency tasked with protecting the health and safety of millions of workers across millions of workplaces. This is so well-established that AFL-CIO’s Death on the Job report keeps track of how long it would take OSHA to inspect every U.S. workplace once. The current math is… 190 years.

Despite those limitations, OSHA ramped up the number of inspections it conducted in 2023. According to information shared with the LHSFNA, OSHA conducted 34,250 inspections in 2023, a seven percent increase from 2022 and the highest number of inspections conducted since 2015.

In an even bigger shift, when the agency did issue citations from these inspections, they were more likely to be for higher penalty totals. In 2023, OSHA issued more than 250 citations with initial penalties exceeding $100,000, with 101 of those citations totalling $250,000 or more. Compare that to 2022, when the agency issued 184 citations over $100,000 and 51 over $250,000.

Those higher penalty numbers are being driven by more violations being categorized as “willful or repeated,” which carry a maximum penalty of $161,323 per violation. OSHA issued over 600 willful violations in 2023, topping the previous record set in 2015.

LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman David F. Rampone

“The best way to avoid these large fines is to proactively invest the resources and effort necessary to create a top-notch safety and health program,” said LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman David F. Rampone. “Steps like pre-job hazard assessments, regular refresher training and giving crews stop work authority if they encounter a hazard are all part of such a program.”

In 2023, OSHA also conducted almost 300 inspections as part of its Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP), which involves mandatory follow-up inspections for “employers that have demonstrated indifference to their OSH Act obligations by committing willful, repeated or failure-to-abate violations.” The previous SVEP high was 108 in 2016.

To recap, this was OSHA’s 2023 enforcement strategy: more inspections, more willful violations when the situation calls for it and more resources focused on previous serious violators.

That’s three very good reasons for employers – particularly employers in the construction industry – to take the safety and health of their workforce seriously. After all, about 50 percent of annual OSHA inspections happen in the construction industry. (Do you know the 10 most common penalties issued to construction employers?)

The best reason for construction employers to have a strong safety and health program isn’t to avoid OSHA fines – it’s to eliminate potential hazards and protect their workforce from serious injuries and fatalities. However, hefty fines can impact a company’s bottom line, limit its ability to compete for and win future projects and damage its reputation. (Did you know OSHA publishes these high-penalty violations in a state-by-state map dashboard online?)

For more information, see our article What to Expect During an OSHA Inspection or our video interview with an OSHA inspector detailing how OSHA prioritizes inspections and how the process works once an inspector arrives on site. LIUNA signatory employers can also reach out to the Fund’s OSH Division for assistance with creating or reviewing written safety and health programs or to request a site visit to assess potential hazards and find areas for improvement.

[Nick Fox]

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