What are the penalties for breaking health and safety legislation?
Since 1970 The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has overseen a 63% reduction in workplace fatalities; enforcement of legislation is necessary to ensure employees are as safe as they can be – the ethos of OSHA is that no employee should risk their life at work.
OSHA set clear expectations that employers should aim to eliminate risks, and where elimination is not possible that the risk be minimised and controlled. Incidents and inspections can lead to crippling fines, and these fines should act as both a deterrent for lack of action in regard to workplace safety, and as a consequence of health and safety failures.
Minor incidents can carry fines of up to $15,625. Major or repeated violations can cost up to $156,259 per citation.
In addition to monetary fines, the Occupational Safety and Health (Amendment) Act 2022 has expanded the scope of regulations to include a wider ecosystem of contractors and subcontractors, plus the risk of imprisonment for serious, wilful and repeated violations.
What are some of the consequences of non-compliance?
Penalties and fines are some of the most direct consequences of non-compliance for employers. Others include worker compensation costs (estimated to be up to $1 billion per week, across all employers in the US medical costs and legal expenses. There are other indirect costs that businesses also face when sanctioned for health and safety violations such as costs of investigating accidents, loss of personnel, recruiting and training replacement employees, increased insurance premiums, damage to property, and company reputation.
The consequences of non-compliance can be severe both in human cost and financially, and yet preventative measures can be both cost effective and simple to deploy, with the return on investing in compliance solutions saving potentially millions of dollars in fines and other direct and indirect costs every year.
Direct and indirect costs are an additional drain on business resource, and whilst navigating costs businesses also need to demonstrate recognition and accountability for violations in order to prove they are implementing corrective measures. Retailers with chains of stores can quickly accumulate hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines by breaching regulations in multiple locations. Despite stores being in different locations OSHA classifies them as being one employer and therefore a multiplier factor quickly causes fines to add up with some reaching multiple millions of dollars every year.
For some large US retailers a common theme amongst them is ‘OSHA citation 1910.37 – maintenance, safeguards and operational features for exit routes‘.
Some examples of the magnitude of these fines are:
- $167,504 – TJX, 2022
- $113,660 – Target Corp., 2019
- $100,000 – Forever 21, 2014
Some of the ways these companies can be violating OSHA rules include:
- Unsafe stacking of merchandise
- Blocking access to electrical panels with trolleys
- Locking fire exit doors thereby removing safe exit in the event of an emergency
What is classed as an obstruction?
OSHA qualifies a barrier as something that is a physical obstruction that blocks and/or limits access. Obstructions are a particularly high occurring violation in relation to fire safety with some of the highest fines and penalties issued coming from obstructions of emergency exits, exit routes, electrical panels and extinguishers.
Exposing employees to fire and entrapment hazards by not providing portable fire extinguishers, obstructing exit routes and electrical panels sees the US Postal Service facing proposed fines of $234,783 following an inspection at Lehigh Valley in 2021. For companies failing to address minor violations and preventing serious or repeat violations across their estate these costs are not insignificant.
Evidence suggests that for every $1 in fines businesses will spend a further $4 in indirect costs, and yet investing in injury prevention and safety measures returns on average $2 or more for every $1 spent. This demonstrates not only the human benefit of good health and safety solutions, but the financial benefits of doing so – for very little effort and expenditure businesses can mitigate increasingly high costs and incalculable fines.
What are the challenges facing businesses?
There are many challenges businesses face in ensuring a safe working environment. Some examples of these are:
- Multiple areas and items within areas that need continuous monitoring such as exit routes, fire extinguishers and emergency exits
- High employee turnover – this can mean employees are not fully trained or aware of health and safety implications
- Different regulations in different states dependent on whether it is an OSHA federal state or covered by an OSHA-approved state plan
How do businesses address risks?
Companies are expected to have detailed assessments and plans in place in the event of an emergency including fire risk assessments, evacuation plans and procedures, and fire prevention plans. Fire Safety Compliance risks are laid out in the Fire Risk Assessment (FRA). This is the very minimum expected of employers. The 3 areas the FRA addresses are:
- Hazards should be comprehensively identified and documented
- Assess the risk behind each of the hazards (low, medium or high)
- Take action to eliminate, or control the risk where eliminating it is not possible
Risk assessments should be regularly revisited. Anything that can affect an existing risk or create a new one must be documented, i.e. construction work may impact existing exit routes and businesses must show that they have acknowledged this and put new additional measures in place to counter new risks.
This demonstrates how important and how challenging it can be for even the most diligent businesses to stay on the right side of the regulations. . For businesses this is an on-going challenge, with the need for regular in person inspections and health and safety audits, plus the difficulty of knowing whether employees are adhering to the risk assessments when it is not being monitored. For companies with diligent risk assessments and thought through control measures, it can be incredibly frustrating to risk hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines due to employees not adhering to the measures and inadvertently causing health and safety risks.
Previously, we have discussed the impact of workplace situational awareness and the part employees can play in adding to or detracting from health and safety compliance. Human involvement in recognising risks and correctly mitigating them can be inconsistent and is a frustrating, but necessary, challenge for employers to overcome.
How can AI help with compliance?
Computer Vision AI is a vigilant and compliant approach to health and safety management. By allowing computer vision to understand a situation, building specific parameters tailored to each individual location, businesses have an instant and far-reaching understanding of what is happening in every location.
Conducting remote spot-check inspections is available at a click of a mouse. End to end reporting of incidents provides businesses with valuable information which can then inform their approach to addressing issues and pro-actively working on areas for improvement.
Computer vision, applied as a health and safety management system, allows businesses to take back control of what can seem to be a never-ending series of fines for breaches of regulations and demonstrates to OSHA inspectors that they take health and safety seriously enough to implement significant mitigating controls for identified risks.
Why choose Hazard Detect for OSHA compliance?
One of the key aspects of addressing health and safety challenges with AI is to gain a deep understanding of what is actually happening in physical, real-world locations. In order to offer a truly useful and impactful health and safety management system, we take the time to understand what is happening in every location and to align the computer vision application with the specific regulations and infrastructure applicable to each. Rather than offering a retrospective summary of incidents, Hazard Detect offers real-time alerting, allowing a pre-emptive response to non-compliance, placing you firmly in control with full oversight of current and closed incidents, speed of response from local teams and localised understanding of areas of the business that may need additional support understanding OSHA compliance.
Our low-maintenance solution is designed to scale easily across multiple sites, integrating with existing CCTV & VMS providers, and existing or preferred in-store notification systems dependent on what fits the internal processes of the business in order to deliver a seamless service with minimal disruption. We account for everyday occurrences such as cameras being knocked or moved, for example during cleaning or routine maintenance – ensuring automatic readjustment for protected zones when camera angles change. The solution is also able to differentiate between people and other objects, meaning people walking or standing in a protected zone do not trigger alerts.
Our approach to health and safety is to ensure a comprehensive service, from detecting that fire extinguishers are properly stored to providing end to end reporting of incidents and cleaning events. At a time when non-compliance costs businesses billions annually, our comprehensive solution and understanding of the health and safety issues businesses face can save money; reducing fines, insurance premiums, compensation costs, recruitment and training costs, and importantly it addresses OSHA directly – offering businesses a realistic solution to ensuring no employee puts their life at risk whilst going to work.
Sources OSHA – Mission Statement  OSHA – Penalties  EHS Today – OSHA Steps up prosecution of safety violations  OSHA – Business Case for Safety and Health  Bloomberg Law – Repeat, wilful Safety Violations Boosted  OSHA – Inspection Detail: 1596453.015 – The Tjx Companies, Inc  OSHA – Inspection Detail: 1399771.015 – Target Corp  OSHA – Inspection Detail: 1006976.015 – Forever 21 Retail, Inc  OSHA – Definitions  US Department of Labor – news release  Go2HR – Why it pays to invest in safety  OSHA – Business Case for Safety & Health  OSHA – State Plans  OSHA – Fire Safety