While much of the rest of the government is shutdown, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) is hard at work.  OSHA which is an agency within DOL is one of the few agencies that is fully funded and operational.  On January 15th, OSHA issued a pre-published version of its Federal Register notice for the increase in civil penalties for violations of OSHA standards and regulations to adjust for inflation. The Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015 (Inflation Adjustment Act) requires the Department to annually adjust its civil money penalty levels for inflation no later than January 15 of each year.  However, due to the government shutdown, the Office of the Federal Register is closed and until the government reopens, the notice will not published.  Meaning that OSHA penalties will not increase until the the date of publication of the Federal Register notice.  The effective date of the new penalties will be the date of publication and the increase will only apply to citations issued after the effective date of the increase and for the remainder of 2019.

OSHA penalties for all classifications will increase by $326.  For other-than-serious, serious and failure to abate violations, penalties will increase from $12,934 per violation to $13,260 per violation.  The penalty for willful and repeat violations increased from $129,336 to $132,589.

The 2019 maximum penalties are as follows:

  • Other-than-Serious: $13,260
  • Serious: $13,260
  • Repeat : $132,589
  • Willful: $132,589

The penalty increase applies to Federal OSHA states, however, OSHA expects that states operating their own occupational safety and health program will align penalty structures with Federal OSHA so that such programs are equally effective as Federal OSHA.  While this is OSHA’s expectation there has been little adjustment from various state plans to align with the increase in penalties.  For example, North Carolina and Kentucky still maintain a $7,000 maximum fine for serious violations and $70,000 for willful or repeats.

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Photo of Tressi L. Cordaro Tressi L. Cordaro

Tressi L. Cordaro is a Principal in the Washington, D.C. Region office of Jackson Lewis P.C. She is co-leader of the firm’s Workplace Safety and Health Practice Group. She advises and represents employers on occupational safety and health matters before federal and state…

Tressi L. Cordaro is a Principal in the Washington, D.C. Region office of Jackson Lewis P.C. She is co-leader of the firm’s Workplace Safety and Health Practice Group. She advises and represents employers on occupational safety and health matters before federal and state OSHA enforcement agencies.

Ms. Cordaro has advised employers faced with willful and serious citations as the result of catastrophic events and fatalities, including citations involving multi-million dollar penalties. Ms. Cordaro’s approach to representing an employer cited by OSHA is to seek an efficient resolution of contested citations, reserving litigation as the option if the client’s business objectives cannot otherwise be achieved. As a result, she has secured OSHA withdrawals of citations without the need for litigation.

Ms. Cordaro’s unique experience with government agencies involved in OSHA enforcement enables her to provide employers with especially insightful guidance as to how regulators view OSHA compliance obligations, and evaluate contested cases.

Ms. Cordaro served as the Presidentially-appointed Legal Counsel and Special Advisor to the past Chairman and Commissioner Horace A. Thompson, III at the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Review Commission (OSHRC) in Washington, DC, the agency that adjudicates contested federal OSHA citations. As the Commissioner’s chief counsel, Ms. Cordaro analyzed all cases presented to the OSHRC and advocated the Commissioner’s position during decisional meetings.

In addition, Ms. Cordaro worked at the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration developing OSHA standards, regulations and enforcement and compliance policies, with emphasis on the construction industry. She has in-depth experience on technical issues including, in particular, issues related to cranes and derricks in construction.