Hazards exist in every workplace, regardless of the industry. Just 50 years ago, over 14,000 workers were dying on the job each year and disabling work injuries were at their highest rate ever. In response, President Richard M. Nixon signed The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 which established three permanent federal agencies: the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to set and enforce workplace safety and health standards; the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to conduct research on occupational safety and health; and the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC), an independent agency to adjudicate enforcement actions challenged by employers.
Just three years after OSHA was formed, California established their own set of standards through the California Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1973. The resulting agency, Cal/OSHA, provides free safety and health assistance to employers with the goal of preventing occupational injuries and illnesses and also sets forth strict regulations for employers to follow. If employers are not compliant, employees or whistleblowers can file a complaint with Cal/OSHA which will then be investigated by the agency. Cal/OSHA is regarded by many as one of the most aggressive and enforcement-heavy state safety and health agencies in the country. In 2017, Cal/OSHA found that 93 percent of inspected businesses were out of compliance and subsequently issued over 2,700 violations.
If an employer is found to be in violation of workplace safety standards, penalties will apply. Current civil penalties under Cal/OSHA are as follows:
- General violations: Up to $12,726 per violation
- Serious violations: Up to $25,000 per violation
- Willful or repeat violations: Up to $127,254 per violation
- Failure to abate: Up to $15,000 per day
- Failure to report serious injury or illness or death of an employee: A minimum penalty of $5,000
Cal/OSHA violations can also result in significant criminal penalties against employers including fines into the millions of dollars and even jail time, depending on the nature of the violations. In addition to Cal/OSHA penalties, employers can still be subject to citations and penalties for OSHA complaints on a federal level as well.
Common Cal/OSHA Violations
Many of the most commonly cited Cal/OSHA violations are completely avoidable and often aren’t even the result of an injury or death. Many employers are violating these regulations without even realizing. Below are some work safety regulations that you may be violating right now.
Injury and Illness Prevention
The number one cited Cal/OSHA violation is the absence of an Injury and Illness Prevention Program. According to Title 8 Section 3203 of the California Code of Regulations, “every employer shall establish, implement and maintain an effective Injury and Illness Prevention Program.” Though there are some exceptions to this rule, many employers find they are not among the exempt when they are hit with a violation.
Safety Data Sheets
A large number of Cal/OSHA violations result from lack of proper hazard communication. Title 8 Section 5194 of the California Code of Regulations requires all employers to provide information to their employees about the hazardous chemicals to which they may be exposed, by means of a hazard communication program, labels, safety data sheets, training and other forms of warning. Any organization that is subject to Cal/OSHA workplace safety and health regulations must provide all employees, contractors, volunteers, or other workers with unrestricted access to a Safety Data Sheet for every chemical for which they may be exposed or are exposed. Even cleaning products used in the workplace can be considered hazardous chemicals, so it’s important for employers to ensure they have the proper safety data sheets for their workplace to avoid a complaint or violation.
Transportation hazards account for a disproportionate number of workplace injuries and fatalities each year. This doesn’t only affect the transportation industry, however. Roadway incidents and accidents remain a top cause of workplace deaths across the board. According to Cal/OSHA, “every employer whose workers drive on the job should have a comprehensive motor vehicle safety program. The program should provide clear policies, promote safe driving, and ensure that vehicles are maintained in a safe condition.” While Cal/OSHA does not have a specific standard for motor vehicle safety, transportation hazard violations often fall under the same category as Injury and Illness Prevention violation.
Navigating the multi-faceted landscape of workplace health and safety can be confusing for employers, but human resources can play a vital role in ensuring employers are compliant and all proper measures are in place. A knowledgeable and dedicated HR representative or Professional Employer Organization (PEO) has the expertise to advise employers on techniques that encourage and maintain employee health and safety in the workplace and reduce the employer liabilities and compliance concerns.
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