With the recent passage of Senate Bill 592, the Oregon Legislature has dramatically augmented the range of civil penalties on employers who violate Oregon Safe Employment laws. Previously, Oregon law imposed only the minimum civil penalties prescribed under the federal OSHA. Effective May 24, 2023, the minimum penalty for a single serious violation has now nearly quadrupled, from $300 to $1,116, while the minimum penalty for repeated violations has skyrocketed from $200 to $11,162—a difference of more than 5,000 percent.
Severe increases are prescribed for violations resulting in employee fatalities and for failures to correct violations after citation. In cases involving penalties for repeated willful or serious violations, any penalty reduction must be conditioned upon the employer’s agreement to comply with “additional abatement measures as determined by the state agency.”
Small business employers will find it more difficult to obtain any downward adjustment on assessed penalties based on the employers’ size.
The new law substantially broadens the state agency’s investigatory powers and responsibilities. The Director of the Department of Consumer and Business Services is now authorized to conduct a “comprehensive inspection of any place of employment as deemed necessary by the department based upon the prior violation history of the place of employment regarding any state occupational safety or health law, regulation, standard, rule or order.” The director is now required to conduct a comprehensive inspection in cases involving work-related fatalities or whenever three or more willful or repeated violations occur within a one-year period. What constitutes a “comprehensive inspection” now falls within the professional judgment of the inspector from case to case.
The state agency must submit at least annually a report summarizing the total number and amount of penalties assessed, the total number of appeals of citations, violations and penalty assessment, and the total number inspections completed by the department. The first report is due no later than September 15, 2024.
Now is the time for Oregon employers to review their health and safety policies and procedures, identify potential risks–particularly risks associated with any past OSHA violations in the employer’s history, and develop plans to mitigate or eliminate those risks. Employers cited for violations now have greater incentives to appeal those citations and to remain fully informed about their rights and obligations under the Oregon Safe Employment Act.
If you have questions or need assistance with OSHA or safety compliance, inspections and citations, please reach out to the Jackson Lewis attorney with whom you often work, or any member of our Workplace Safety and Health Team.