In the wake of two worker deaths in Northeast Ohio this year, OSHA has increased fines for serious and repeat workplace safety violators by 78 percent starting Aug. 1.
OSHA’s maximum penalties were last adjusted in 1990. Maximum penaltiesfor serious violations will rise from $7,000 per violation to $12,471.
Maximum penalties for willful or repeated violations are increasing from $70,000 to $124,709.
OSHA Spokesperson Scott Allen told newsnet5.com that the new penalties are meant to be a greater deterrent for business who fail to educate themselves on potential workplace hazards.
“I don’t get why a company wouldn’t want to protect workers at all costs,” Allen said in a phone interview.
OSHA said that the deaths of two workers killed at work sites in Mentor and Canton this year were “completely preventable.”
In March, Timkensteel worker Kenny Ray Jr, a Creston police officer, died of nitrogen exposure at his worksite in Canton.
OSHA previously issued a citation in January at the facility related to nitrogen exposure in May 2015, according to the agency. Those citations were contested by the company and the fines were later reduced.
Also that month Alexander Marcotte, 28, the father of a newborn and two other children,died after a trench collapse. He was working to connect water lines beneath the ground when the trench caved in.
It was the second time that Aqua Ohio had been cited for trench safety.
But while big businesses might be able to handle the larger price tags, labor and employment attorney Jon Hymantold newsnet5.com that small businesses would be disproportionately affected by the large increase in fines.
“For a small business to potentially be staring down the barrel of a $125,000 dollar per violation,” Hyman said. “It could be catastrophic.”
He said he was also surprised to learn that while the law goes into effect Monday, the fines could be applied retroactively to related violations that occurred after November 2, 2015.
“It was really troubling to me and it should be troubling to businesses,” said Hyman, who belongs to the firm Meyers, Roman, Friedberg & Lewis.
Hyman said it’s not just big industrial employers or construction companies that should take note of the new penalties.
“OSHA touches every employer in multiple ways and so any employer that thinks that this doesn’t impact them needs to rethink it,” he said.
OSHA said it will also continue to adjust its penalties for inflation each year based on the Consumer Price Index.