Navigating Workplace Safety
by Darin Douglas, CEO, Lowe Roofing, Inc., & president, Merge 3 Technology, Inc.
(Editor’s Note: Darin Douglas began roofing in 1997 after graduating from Black Hills State University in Spearfish, South Dakota. Lowe Roofing, Inc., is a family-owned roofing company that has been in operation since 1975 in South Dakota and Wyoming. Merge 3 Technology, Inc., helps contractors track and control their safety processes and efforts on a daily basis. Douglas also served on the WSRCA Board of Directors for nine years and was the chair of the Safety and Health Committee and Low-Slope Committee.)
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was started in April 1971 with the goal of dramatically affecting workplace safety in the United States. Anyone who employs others, runs a business, or operates on a construction site must comply with OSHA’s rules and regulations. Those regulations are backed by a series of violation categories with fines attached to many of them, and it is important to be aware of these as you navigate the world of workplace safety. Starting in January 2018, new fine amounts were announced by OSHA and are currently in effect. There are six different categories within the violation structure OSHA has set up.
De Minimis Violation
De minimis violations result from a technical violation of OSHA rules but carries no impact on the safety and health of workers. Inspectors will not issue a citation or fine for this violation, but will instead inform the employer of the issues and list them within the inspection report. An example of a de minimis violation would be not having standard-sized lettering on your worksite hazard signs.
Other Than Serious Violation
Other than serious violations have a maximum fine amount of $12,934 attached to them. Violations in this category are defined as acts not causing death or serious bodily injury. Inspectors have a lot of say in this category and can reduce fine amounts up to 90% in some cases. Failing to provide employees with copies of safety rules and regulations would be an example of an other than serious violation.
The serious violation category is defined as having a definite chance to cause serious injury or death. OSHA expects that employers should be aware of the serious hazards associated with the work being performed and should provide adequate safety controls to protect workers. This violation carries with it a maximum fine amount of $129,336, but as with the previous categories, inspectors can adjust fine amounts based on things like the seriousness of the violation, company history, company cooperation, and many other factors. Failing to provide any fall protection for workers on a 6:12 roof slope would be an example of a serious violation.
The willful violation is the harshest category within OSHA’s penalty structure and is issued when an employer knowingly disregards employee safety and health by intentionally not following OSHA rules and regulations. This violation carries with it a maximum fine amount of $129,336. Fines can grow rapidly if a person is killed due to this intentional lack of safety, sometimes becoming a criminal offense accompanied by possible jail time.
Repeat violations carry with it a maximum fine amount of $129,336. An inspector can issue a repeat violation if the employer has been cited for the same thing, or something very similar, before. Employers who are issued too many repeat violations risk inspectors issuing a willful violation if they feel an employer is blatantly disregarding OSHA recommendations and repeatedly committing the same violations.
The Failure To Abate Prior Violation
A failure to abate prior violation is issued when an employer fails to correct a cited hazard in the time allotted within the citation literature. This violation comes with a fine of $12,934 for every day the cited hazard is not corrected after the citation is posted. Issued citations by OSHA will come with all the necessary information employers need to meet abatement expectations, so failing to abate a hazard will not go well for the employer if inspectors have to return to the site.
OSHA violations carry with them a significant financial challenge, and can have a lasting effect on workplace safety and health within a company. As an employer, if you are issued a citation, make sure to give the process its due diligence. Inspectors take into account lots of different things, and if your company is well informed and accountable, it can have a significant impact on inspectors when they look at possibly reducing fine amounts.