The 10 largest OSHA fines of 2015 totaled some $8.69 million from January to mid December. What these numbers don't show is that some individual companies have received multiple fines this year totaling from $1.4 million for one company to $1.87 million for another. OSHA issued more than 165 significant fines (over $100,000) for the year, with a total value of $35.1 million.
A recent budget amendment could mean significantly higher fines next year, when OSHA will be allowed to adjust fines for inflation. Fines could increase as much as 80 percent in 2016, taking a willful violation from $70,000 to $127,000, for example.
Here's a list of the top 10 fines issued in 2015. Some are still pending final decisions.
1. $1.8 million and SVEP for exposing construction workers to asbestos in Illinois
During renovation of a former elementary school, two Illinois construction companies violated numerous OSHA health standards related to the dangers of asbestos. The companies now face a total of $1,792,000 in penalties and entry to the Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP) for willfully exposing at least eight workers to asbestos. The investigation also found management brought non-English speaking workers to the U.S. and threatened them with termination if they spoke with OSHA inspectors. View citations against the two companies here and here. (pdf)
2. $1.76 million fine and SVEP after 1,000 injuries in past 36 months at a Wisconsin furniture manufacturer
After a worker lost three fingers while operating a woodworking machine without required safety mechanisms in place, a resulting inspection identified 12 willful, 12 repeat and 14 serious safety violations. In a 3.5-year period, more than 1,000 work-related injuries were recorded at the manufacturer. See the citations here.
3. $963,000 and SVEP following a deadly blast at a Nebraska railcar cleaning facility
Moments before a blast ripped through a railcar in April, an air quality check showed a serious risk of an explosion. Despite the warning, two employees were sent into the car to work without monitoring the air continuously for explosive hazards as required, nor providing the employees with emergency retrieval equipment or properly fitted respirators. The explosion that resulted blew the railcar's escape ladder off, killed the two men and injured another. OSHA cited the company for seven egregious, three willful, two repeated, 20 serious and one other-than-serious safety and health violations. View the health and safety citations.
4. $861,000 and SVEP for repeat amputation and other hazards at an Ohio poultry processor. 2015 total tops $1.8 million
Investigation of an Ohio chicken processing facility found that the company was aware of dangers, but continued to expose workers to serious and potentially fatal injuries. Acting on a referral, OSHA cited the company for two willful, 20 repeat, 30 serious and three other-than-serious safety and health violations. The company has been issued more than $1.87 million in OSHA penalties in 2015, the most recent a $462,000 fine in December. View the initial citations here. (pdf)
5. $822,000 and SVEP for repeat machine guard violations at a Pennsylvania manufacturer
Following an amputation incident, OSHA issued 10 willful violations based on the company's repeated failure to guard machines and to provide annual audiometric tests. Additionally, OSHA cited three willful, four serious, and seven other-than-serious violations for electrical hazards, noise protection, and recordkeeping violations. Despite numerous federal inspections, warnings, fines and promises to stop putting workers at risk, the company has experienced some 40 serious injuries since 2000. Read the original citations here and here (pdf).
6. $563,000 for whistleblower retaliation at a national railroad
The employer must reinstate a train conductor and pay $536,063 in back pay, damages and attorney's fees after a federal investigation found the rail operator retaliated against its employee after reporting a knee injury. The company filed disciplinary charges against the conductor after he reported the injury. The employee filed a Federal Railroad Safety Act anti-discrimination complaint with OSHA in February 2011. Company officials fired him in August 2011 despite knowing that his injury report was protected by law. Read more.
7. $511,000 and SVEP following a fatal fall by a Missouri steel worker
In July, a 22-year-old apprentice ironworker fell more than 30 feet to his death while standing on a 9-inch-wide steel girder at a Kansas city construction site. OSHA inspection found that the steel subcontractor violated its own safety manual and a signed contract with the site's general contractor regarding fall protection. In addition, the company allowed workers to climb scissor lift guardrails to access the steel frame and decking and allowed them to climb the rails of the aerial lift basket. A total of seven willful violations were cited. Three serious safety violations resulted from makeshift devices on scaffold platforms to increase working height, failure to inspect fall arrest systems before use and failure to instruct workers on use and application of fall protection equipment. View the citations here.
8. $490,000 for asbestos hazards at a Pennsylvania environmental services company
Workers removing thermal pipe insulation at an unoccupied residence were exposed to asbestos. OSHA cited seven willful violations, including allowing workers to remove asbestos improperly; failing to make sure their employees' respirators fit correctly; and not decontaminating employees and their clothing before leaving the work site. OSHA requires employers to treat thermal system insulation and surfacing material found in buildings constructed before and in 1980 as asbestos, unless they can prove that the material is free of asbestos. This building was built in 1928, and the company made no attempt to test the removed materials. Read the citations here (pdf).
9. $477,900 and SVEP for 50 repeat and serious LOTO and health violations at an Oklahoma manufacturer
OSHA cited five repeat and 45 serious violations on a range of health and safety issues, including inadequate protection of workers from machinery, a lack of respiratory equipment and training for hazardous chemicals. The company had no procedure to prevent machines from starting during maintenance or service, and failed to maintain written fire protection and emergency management plans. View citations here and here (pdf).
10. $470,300 and SVEP for scaffold and electrocution hazards at a Pennsylvania construction site
Masonry workers installing brick facades on two new residential properties in Philadelphia were allowed to erect a scaffold too close to power lines and without proper bracing to prevent a collapse. Less than three weeks later, OSHA was notified of another imminent danger at a second work site, where workers were laying bricks on a building 35 feet above the ground without fall protection. OSHA cited the company for eight violations, including seven willful. Penalties for both inspections total $470,300. The company owner has a long history of exposing workers to safety hazards, including two prior incidents where employees were shocked when they came into contact with energized electrical lines. Read more here.