During an OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) inspection, the inspector may find incidents or procedures that violate their safety standards and regulations. An OSHA serious violation and a willful violation are two of the most severe violations given after an inspection—each have their own set of requirements and punishments.
When OSHA issues citations and penalties, they issue them based on the nature and severity of the violation.
A serious violation is defined as when there is substantial probability workplace hazards can cause an incident that would most likely result in death or serious physical harm, and that the employer knew, or should have known about the potential risks and did nothing to address it.
The mandatory penalty for serious violations can be up to $7,000, though this can be reduced based on the employer’s history, gesture of good faith, size of the company, and the gravity of the violation.
OSHA willful violations occur when an employer either knowingly disregards legal rules and regulations or acted with indifference to employee health and safety.
After receiving a willful violation, employers are required to pay a fine of $5,000 to $70,000 per violation. If an incident leads to an employee’s death, the violation then becomes a criminal offense and can be punishable by fines up to $500,000 or imprisonment of up to six months.
The types of willful violations can be broken down into three categories:
Intentional Disregard Violations—violations are determined by a refusal to follow proper procedures:
The employer knew of OSHA standards and regulations and alleged hazards at work but chose not to address it.
The employer has no previous knowledge of OSHA standards and regulations but is aware of similar legal requirements and of workplace hazards yet choose not to address it.
The employer knew the specific steps needed to address a workplace hazard and chose to replace health and safety protocol with their own judgements.
Plain Indifference Violations—violations caused by a lack of concern for employee health and safety:
Management did inform lower level supervisors or employees about OSHA rules and regulations.
Management knew of an obviously hazardous situation and took little to no preventative actions.
The employer was unaware of proper legal requirements for a hazardous workplace situation but knew through an external source that it was dangerous to employees yet did little to nothing to resolve the issue.
When the employer has no knowledge of a hazardous situation but places no importance on learning the information.
Criminal Willful Violations—violations issued when the employer’s actions, or lack thereof, resulted in the death of an employee. No adjustments due to good faith are made.
OSHA standards and procedures may be tedious, but knowing and following the proper steps to prevent or limit hazardous incidents in the workplace is necessary to reducing risks towards your business and towards the safety of your employees and third parties.