Last month, OSHA released its final inspection and citation statistics for FY 2010, revealing that, by any measure, OSHA has followed through on its promise to increase enforcement. Employers can expect theses trends to continue into 2011, and they should remain vigilant in enforcing their safety policies and ensuring that those policies are up-to-date and in compliance with OSHA's standards.

According to the figures released for FY 2010, OSHA conducted more than 41,000 inspections in FY 2010 - a 15-year high and a five percent increase over FY 2009. In addition, OSHA issued more than 94,000 citations in FY 2010, a seven percent increase over last year, and the highest number of citations in nearly two decades.

Violations of OSHA's construction scaffolding standard, 1926.451, topped the list of the most frequently cited offenses for the third year in a row. Citations of the following standards rounded out OSHA's top ten list:

  • •fall protection, 1926.501;
  • •hazard communication, 1910.1200;
  • •respiratory protection, 1910.134;
  • •ladders, 1926.1053;
  • •lockout/tagout, 1910.147;
  • •electrical wiring methods, 1910.305;
  • •powered industrial trucks, 1910.178;
  • •electrical general requirements, 1910.303; and
  • •machine guarding, 1910.212.

These citations represented 49 percent of all citations issued by OSHA in FY 2010.

As part of its effort to get tough on enforcement, OSHA has also levied greater penalties. The average fine for a serious violation rose by six percent in FY 2010, while the number of significant cases - those with fines totaling more than $100,000 - increased by 37 percent.

Employers can expect more of the same in 2011. As we reported in a previous OSHA Update, OSHA has recently implemented a "Severe Violator Enforcement Program" (or "SVEP") designed to saddle certain employers with recurring inspections and increased penalties. In addition to SVEP, OSHA recently instituted changes to its internal guidelines that will expand the period of time for assessing a repeat violation from three to five years, increase the time frame for reviewing an employer's compliance history, and eliminate an Area Director's ability to reduce a proposed penalty by more than 30 percent during an informal settlement conference. Under these new guidelines, the average penalty for a serious citation is expected to rise from an average of $1,000 to an average of $3,000 to $4,000.