OSHA's new Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP) becomes effective today (https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=DIRECTIVES&p_id=4503). The Program, which provides for enhanced OSHA fines and penalties for claimed willful, repeated, or failure-to-abate violations, raises the stakes for employers who may face an OSHA inspection. Employers may now be subject to:
Mandatory follow-up inspections
Increased company/corporate awareness of OSHA enforcement
Corporate-wide agreements, where appropriate
Enhanced settlement provisions
Federal court enforcement under Section 11(b) of the OSH Act
In conjunction with the SVEP, the majority party in Congress has made it a priority to pass the Protecting America's Workers Act (PAWA) this legislative session. If enacted, PAWA would give OSHA more power by greatly increasing potential penalties. It would subject corporate officers as well as other responsible people to possible felony charges for willful violations of OSHA rules that result in an employee death–criminal charges in such cases are now limited to misdemeanors. (http://edlabor.house.gov/blog/2009/04/protecting-americas-workers-ac.shtml)
PAWA would also raise the maximum prison sentence for a willful violation resulting in the death of an employee. The penalty would increase under the bill to 10 years from the current six months for the first offesne, and to 20 years from one year for repeat convictions.
Willful violations that result in serious bodily injury, but not death, could also be prosecuted as felonies, with imprisonment of up to five years for the first offense and up to 10 years for subsequent convictions. The maximum prison term for knowingly making a false statement, representationtion or certification to OSHA would be increased to two years from six months.
Civil penalties also would increase under PAWA, with serious violation maximum fines rising to $12,000 from $7,000 and willful violation fines increasing to a maximum of $120,000 from $70,000.
What may be a nuisance citation today may be considered a repeat or willful violation in the future, and may subject you to one of these heightened enforcement programs of OSHA. In the past, many employers were content to simply pay the relatively small fines associated with any OSHA citations, rather than contest them. With today's enactment of the SVEP, and the likely enactment of the Protecting Americas Workers Act (PAWA), it is more important than ever to make sure your rights are protected in any OSHA investigation.
Sheehy, Ware & Pappas, P.C. attorneys have handled in excess of 300 OSHA inspections for employers throughout the United States. Many of these inspections involve fatalities, and multiple injuries. For more information on handling an OSHA inspection, contact Steve Grubbs at 713-951-1014, or on nights or weekends, you may call his cell at 281-732-3413. You may also visit our website at www.sheehyware.com.