Safety & Health

Safety Management

Are You Ready for the Increase in OSHA Violation Fines?

Revised: 1/22/20

In August 2016, OSHA penalty limits increased 78 percent, and going forward OSHA will annually adjust its civil money penalty levels for inflation based on the Consumer Price Index no later than January 15 of each year.

How can this impact your company?

When the initial increases went into effect in 2016, they reflected a catch-up for more than 20 years without monetary adjustments. That meant a staggering increase of 78 percent for maximum penalties, driving serious and other-than-serious penalties from a ceiling of $7,000 to more than $13,000 and, for willful and repeat violations to more than $130,000.

Types of violations

Serious: Serious violations are those which contain a “substantial probability that death or serious harm can result and that the employer knew, or should have known, of the hazard.” Over 70 percent of all federal violations fall into this group. Serious violations frequently result from fall hazards, unsafe electrical conditions, and lockout/tagout inadequacies. Penalty maximum for serious violation is set at $13,494 for 2020.

Other-than-Serious: OSHA defines Other-than-Serious as a violation that has a direct relationship to job safety and health, but probably would not cause death or serious physical harm. These represent the second most common type of violation. Recordkeeping issues often cause Other-than-Serious violations. Penalty maximum for other-than-serious violation is set at $13,494 for 2020.

Failure to Abate Prior Violation: If you’ve had a recent inspection and are cited for violations, you must make corrections in an appropriate time frame designated by OSHA. If you do not do so, you may be issued a “Failure to Abate Prior Violation.” These carry the same penalties as Serious or Other-than-Serious violations, but are assessed for each day the violation continues beyond the abatement date. For 2020, that penalty can be as high as $13,494 per day beyond the abatement date.

Willful Violation: When a violation demonstrates intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirement, or plain indifference to employee safety and health, it may be deemed willful. Good faith effort is not applicable to reduce willful violation penalties. In addition to extensive OSHA penalties, criminal sanctions can follow if a willful violation results in a workplace fatality. Minimum penalty for willful violation is $9,639 with a maximum set at  $134,937 for 2020.

Repeat Violation: If an employer is re-inspected and found to have a similar condition or hazard that was previously cited by OSHA within the past five years, they may be subject to a repeat violation. Penalty maximum for repeat violation is set at $134,937 for 2020.

Prevent violations

Proactive methods are essential to stay ahead of potential citations. Be vigilant for possible hazards through risk management and job safety analyses (JSAs).

Reactive methods can also be used to identify problem area. If you’ve had a previous inspection within the past five years, ensure that your company is continually addressing any hazards similar to those previously cited, which help eliminate expensive repeat violation penalties. Maintaining proper injury and illness records also aids in identification of current issues.  

You can prevent some types of inspections and subsequent penalties, too. If your safety and health program is solid, the risk of inspections due to injuries and illnesses can be reduced. The best method to prevent injuries and illnesses is also the best method to avoid costly violations.


The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.

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