"Hazards unacceptable; fines too low" — OSHA chief

Posted by Clarion Safety on 16th Mar 2010

OSHA chief Dr. David Michaels, assistant Secretary of Labor, told House lawmakers on March 16that much remains to be done in improving workplace safety.

"Good jobs are safe jobs, and American workers still face unacceptable hazards. More than 5,000 workers are killed on the job in America each year, more than 4 million are injured, and thousands more will become ill in later years from present occupational exposures," Michaels told the House of Representatives Education and Labor Committee's Subcommittee on Workforce Protections. In testimony, he also said that a "fresh look" at the Occupational Safety and Health Act is long overdue.

Michaels was especially critical of penalties for workplace safety violations, which he said are too low, have not be increased in any meaningful way in years, and are completely out of whack in relation to fines imposed for other violations, such as environmental spills.

"Safe jobs exist only when employers have adequate incentives to comply with OSHA's requirements. Those incentives are affected, in turn, by both the magnitude and the likelihood of penalties. Swift, certain and meaningful penalties provide an important incentive to 'do the right thing.' However, OSHA's current penalties are not large enough to provide adequate incentives. Currently, serious violations — those that pose a substantial probability of death or serious physical harm to workers are subject to a maximum civil penalty of only $7,000. Let me emphasize that — a violation that causes a "substantial probability of death — or serious physical harm" brings a maximum penalty of only $7,000, Michaels told lawmakers.

You can see his full statement here.

It's clear that Michaels and the current administration are moving on several fronts regarding workplace safety, including:

  • Seeking increased fines.
  • Seeking additional worker protections as a matter of law.
  • Increasing enforcement and fine activity.

One of the themes of the recent American Society of Safety Engineers' symposium, "Delivering Safety Results in Changing Times," was that compliance is not enough. Compliance, in fact, is really the minimum needed to satisfy regulators, but safety requires more. For instance, consensus industry standards on fall protection are far ahead of OSHA requirements, partly because of continued equipment advances by manufacturers of the safety devices.

Another area where consensus industry standards have far surpassed OSHA is ANSI Z535, the principal U.S. standard for safety signs, safety labels, safety tags, safety colors, and safety information in instructional manuals and other literature. Clarion Safety Systems, LLC, is a leading supplier ofthe best-practices products for safety signs and labels. A vast selection of both signs and labels is available via the company's website; use the navigation on the left to drill down. Symbols and translations are routine in Clarion products, to ensure not just U.S. compliance, but worldwide compliance. More details about the company's safety label audit are available here.