OSHA Given the Go Ahead to Raise Fines

The Budget Reconciliation Act that passed a couple months ago has the potential to significantly affect our members for years to come. The Act authorized (some say mandated) OSHA (and other agencies) to raise the monetary penalties levied by those agencies by significant amount.

The last time OSHA changed their maximum penalties was in 1990. The maximum for a serious violation is $7,000 per violation. The max for Willful or repeated violations has been $70,000 but those numbers are set to change. Under the act that passed in November of this year, the fine for a Serious could be $12,500 and Willful or Repeat could be as high as $125,000 beginning in late 2016. These amounts will be indexed to inflation.

There will be a rulemaking process for the changes in fines and that process has yet to begin. They are waiting for guidance from OMB at this point. The new fines, if the schedule holds will begin in September 2016.

So… what should you be doing now? Well, OSHA has not been an active player in gins in the past but with the new reporting rules, we’ve seen and had a lot more interaction in the past few months. We expect to see a good bit more over the next several years as well. Now is the time to begin looking at your compliance status.

First the easy stuff. Cotton gins are considered Agriculture by OSHA. Our job is to do whatever we can to keep that status. One of the best ways we can do that is to make sure our members are aware of the regulations and are in compliance as much as possible. If we’re not seen as bad actors, we’ll stand a better chance of leniency in the future. Make sure your OSHA 300 and 300A’s are up to date and five years in your files. Make sure you have a Hazard Communication program established and that you have ongoing training for the chemicals in your operation. Dig out that old cotton ginners safety manual and read through it including the guarding sections and see how your guards stack up. Recently OSHA has been putting a lot of emphasis on ladders and stairs. If you THINK it might need a cage or a gate, it probably does.

There’s no time like the present to look at your operation and your safety program to see where it may be deficient. Remember the Cotton GInners Safety Reference Manual all member gins got at some point has a LOT of helpful information and examples of things that may work for you.

Take some time as the season winds down and we get into repair times, to look at your facility, guarding, ladders, and required written programs and get into compliance before the new fine levels take effect. Call on us. We have a good bit of experience with these sort of regulatory issues and can help. Its what we’re here for.