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Workplace violations will have higher fines

For the first time in 25 years, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration will start issuing higher fines for companies that are cited for workplace violations. The current fines are relative to the consumer price index from 1990.

The maximum penalties that OSHA can now issue have increased by about 78 percent. That was part of the budget bill that was signed on Nov. 2 by President Obama. It's not likely that OSHA will raise the fines by that much, but it's believed that there will be a substantial increase.

So far this year, OSHA has issued initial penalties totaling over $54 million. That number is for 599 cases that resulted in penalties of $40,000 or more. Twenty of those cases involved employees in Pennsylvania. Violations included improper training, outdated equipment and on-the-job fatalities. The largest initial penalty by OSHA in the state went to an environmental services firm out of York, Pennsylvania -- $490,000. That fine is being contested.

The deputy assistant secretary for OSHA said that the "current penalties are clearly not strong enough to provide adequate incentives, and some employers see them as simply the 'cost of doing business.'" In addition, he said that the new legislation is being studied to see how they can best "enhance the protection of American workers."

When a workplace accident causes a serious injury or death, the victim and his or her family may seek workers' compensation to pay for medical expenses, final expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages and more. If the employer was willfully negligent or a third party was responsible for the accident, the victim may seek compensation through a civil lawsuit.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Higher OSHA fines coming for violations at workplaces," Daniel Moore, Nov. 25, 2015

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