Consider this not-so-hypothetical example. An employer in California receives a citation from Cal/OSHA for a relatively minor safety violation involving no employee injuries. Maybe the citation was for inadequate training on a particular workplace hazard. The citation carries with it a penalty of $500. The employer could appeal the citation, and spend perhaps thousands of dollars to challenge the citation through a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge; or, it could write a check for $500, agree to fix the violation, and be done with it. In this light, the former response may seem extravagant, while the latter response could be seen as a rational business decision.
Now, fast forward two years from the date that the employer spent $500 to make that previous violation go away. The employer abated the prior violation by adequately training its employees shortly after paying the penalty. A newly-hired employee, however, failed to receive training on the same workplace hazard and suffered a serious injury when exposed to the hazard. After its investigation, the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (the investigative and prosecutorial arm of Cal/OSHA) cites the employer for a “repeat” violation. A “repeat” violation carries with it a significant increase in penalties: that $500 penalty now transforms into a serious, repeat violation with a penalty of up to $36,000. If the untrained employee had been killed, the employer would face a repeat penalty amount of up to $50,000, and the employer (and the responsible managers) would face potential criminal liability.
This is not a fanciful scenario. Under Cal/OSHA, employers are required to have an Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP) in place to identify and respond to particular hazards in a workplace. In addition, the IIPP regulation mandates that employers train their employees on the hazards in the workplace. Yet, employers may be lulled into settling a Cal/OSHA citation by a short-term cost-benefit analysis of a particular citation and its accompanying penalties. But, except perhaps where an employer is in financial distress, the penalties should not be an employer’s chief concern. Instead, the focus should be on answering these questions:
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