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The Occupational Safety and Heath Administration is a division of the U.S. Department of Labor. It was established under the Occupational Safety and Health Act on Dec. 29, 1970. The purpose of the organization is to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for employees through setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, education, outreach, and assistance.
One of the ways that OSHA strives to ensure the safety and health of workers is through inspections and penalties. With jurisdiction over approximately 7 million worksites, OSHA prioritizes inspections in this order:
- Imminent danger situations. Hazards that could cause death or severe harm come first. Compliance officers will demand that employers correct these hazards immediately and remove employees at risk.
- Severe injuries or illnesses. Employers are required to report all work-related fatalities within 8 hours. All work-related inpatient hospitalizations, amputations, or eye losses must be reported within 24 hours.
- Worker complaints. Allegations of violations or hazards made by employees will prompt inspections. It is an employee’s right to be anonymous when they file complaints.
- Targeted inspections. Inspections of specific high-hazard industries or individual workplaces with high rates of injuries receive priority.
- Follow-up inspections. Inspectors check if prior violations and hazards have been addressed.
This list of priorities helps put into perspective the kinds of violations that inspectors seek out and aim to correct. OSHA also categorizes the severity of violations. You can learn more about the minimum and maximum fines for each type of violation here.
- A Serious Violation is one in which there is “substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result and that the employer knew, or should have known, of the hazard.”
- An Other-Than-Serious Violation is a “violation of OSHA rules that would not usually cause death or serious injury but that is nevertheless related to job safety or employee health.”
- A Willful Violation “is defined as a violation in which the employer either knowingly failed to comply with a legal requirement (purposeful disregard) or acted with plain indifference to employee safety.”
- A Repeated Violation is one that the employer has failed to correct since a previous violation. These violations often carry the most hefty fines.
This infographic presents the highest OSHA fines issued in every state since 2015. We gathered this data from OSHA’s database, “Enforcement Cases With Initial Penalties of $40,000 or Above.” Let us take a look at the top five biggest OSHA enforcement cases included on the list.
- Sunfield Inc. (Hebron, Ohio), $3,420,000: In July 2016, Sunfield earned one of the largest OSHA penalties of all time (and a place in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program) for willfully exposing temporary workers to machine hazards. Most of the violations involved a lack of machine safety procedures. In January 2016, a 22-year-old temporary worker suffered a fractured elbow and multiple lacerations while removing scrap from a blanking press. The supervisor had already identified the safety issue two hours prior to the injury but failed to place the equipment out of service. Just a month later, a 58-year-old employee had to undergo surgical amputation of his right arm because it was crushed while removing scrap from a robotic press line. The machine was lacking adequate guards. Sunfield has a history of disregarding employee safety and repeat violations.
- Shawn D. Purvis (Portland, Maine), $1,792,726: A roofer named Alan Loignon suffered a fatal 20-foot fall without wearing any fall protection. Inspectors found that Purvis knowingly failed to ensure the use of fall protection, even encouraging employees to not use it in order to finish jobs faster. Purvis has a record of fall protection violations dating back to 2006. He has been charged with manslaughter.
- Kehrer Brother Construction Inc. (Okawville, Illinois), $1,792,000: Asbestos removal requires personal protection equipment, a decontamination area, and special removal methods to ensure that fibers do not become airborne. Kehrer Brothers Construction failed to ensure these protective measures for eight employees despite being well aware of the asbestos hazards present at an elementary school renovation project. “Kehrer Brothers Construction brought non-English-speaking workers to the U.S. and knowingly exposed them to asbestos,” said Dr. David Michaels, a former OSHA administrator. “Kehrer also threatened to fire his employees if they spoke with our investigators. This is outrageous, illegal behavior.” Joseph Kehrer has been sentenced to five months in federal prison.
- Ashley Furniture Industries Inc. (Arcadia, Wisconsin), $1,766,000: In 2015, OSHA discovered more than 1,000 worker injuries at the Wisconsin warehouse over 36 months. One worker lost three fingers in July 2014 while operating a woodworking machine without required safety mechanisms in place. Michaels stated that Ashley Furniture “intentionally and willfully disregarded OSHA standards and its own corporate safety manuals to encourage workers to increase productivity and meet deadlines.”
- AB Specialty Silicones LLC (Waukegan, Illinois), $1,591,176: Four employees suffered fatal injuries in an explosion and fire that occurred on May 3, 2019. OSHA investigators discovered that forklifts powered by liquid propane were used to transport volatile flammable liquids through areas where employees handled and processed volatile flammable liquids and gases. This created a perfect storm for the deadly ignition.