OSHA fines can sometimes seem trivial, but they often represent just the tip of the iceberg as far as costs to employers are concerned.

For example, at SeaWorld in Orlando, a trainer died after being pulled under water by a killer whale in 2010. OSHA cited the employer for three safety violations, totaling $75,000. A judge later reduced the fine to $12,000. The company also was directed to abate the alleged hazard by allowing trainers to work with killer whales only if there is a physical barrier between them and by creating a minimal distance between trainer and whale.

SeaWorld appealed, but lost its case before the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. The company has taken the dispute to a federal appellate court, and the two sides are engaged in court-ordered mediation. SeaWorld and OSHA also continue to disagree over OSHA’s wish to interview three managers during a follow-up abatement inspection and over public disclosure of safety protocols for working with killer whales, which SeaWorld considers proprietary. The company also seeks to introduce other methods of abatement besides those OSHA recommended.

For a company that boasts hundreds of millions in profits annually, the fine is not really the issue. Rather, it is concern that, if the government prevails, the business may face additional legal liability as well as take what it believes are unnecessary, additional safety precautions.

OSHA citations and abatement requirements can have a huge impact on businesses despite the seemingly trivial fines. Companies should always include any potential longterm impact of OSHA citations or abatement in their costbenefit analysis of any OSHA citation.