While big penalties levied by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration dominate the headlines, monetary fines imposed by health and safety agencies in states backed by OSHA can be significant, too.
So-called State Plan states are those with OSHA-approved job safety and health programs. The federal agency provides up to 50 percent of the funding for these programs, which must be at least as effective as their federal counterpart. States without such a program are prevented from enforcing OSHA standards. Twenty-one states and Puerto Rico have OSHA-approved State Plans that cover both private and public sector workers. Six additional states and the Virgin Islands have OSHA-approved State Plans that cover only state, territorial, and local government public sector workers. Authorization for the state plans comes from Section 18 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
Since June, nine State Plan states have levied six-figure penalties totaling about $6.1 million against 21 companies for alleged safety and health violations. The Safety, Inspection, and Education Division in Illinois, for example, penalized three construction firms and a railcar services company $2.2 million. One of the penalties came to nearly $1.8 million. California’s safety agency, Cal/OSHA, charged a meat byproducts processing company, a door manufacturer, a refinery, and two construction firms with violations amounting to $1.6 million. Michigan’s OSHA program fined a foundry $638,450; a bulk shipping firm in Washington State received a $218,450 fine; a water utility in New Mexico, $144,000; a company that regulates and administers transportation programs in North Carolina, $140,000; and an Indiana shipyard, $112,500.
These penalties highlight that many states carry as big an enforcement stick as federal OSHA. Employers should be as vigilant in monitoring state occupational safety and health enforcement practices as they are with the federal agency’s activities.