By Hank Kita, STA Executive Director
As if STA members were not having enough economic and operational issues because of the COVID pandemic, now it appears that things should be even tougher in 2021 because of an increased emphasis by the Biden administration on safety in the workplace through OSHA!
During the course of the transition between the Trump and Biden administrations, President Joe Biden has indicated that he will ask OSHA to reconsider its refusal to this point to release emergency standards for COVID workplace safety. To no one’s surprise, the incoming Biden administration is expected to ask OSHA to determine whether to establish an emergency temporary rule to keep workers safe from COVID. The Biden team also has said that the new President would direct OSHA to target the worst violators, while increasing the number of OSHA staff and inspectors and develop new strategies for addressing the most dangerous workplace hazards.
This renewed emphasis on OSHA workplace safety coupled with increased financial penalties by this agency, should be taken seriously by all STA members. OSHA has increased its monetary penalties by more than 80% back in 2016, in order to reflect cost-of-living increases since 1990… the last time penalties had been raised. Since 2017, OSHA has adjusted its fine schedule according to the Cost of Living Index every year. As of January 16, 2021, OSHA has again raised its maximum civil penalty amounts according to the rate of inflation. The maximum federal penalty for serious and other than serious violations is now $13,653, rising from the previous maximum of $13,494. In addition, the maximum penalty for willful or repeated violations is now $136,532 as opposed to the previous maximum of $134,937. In addition to raising the amounts for violations, OSHA has also indicated that it will now more aggressively collect its fines. OSHA’s stricter payment initiative also looks to shorten the time in which unpaid penalties and debts are referred to the United States Department of Justice for litigation.
Union construction contractors in New York City have always taken workplace safety seriously. It goes without saying that all STA members should remain diligent in maintaining safe workplaces per OSHA and New York City Department of Buildings rules and regulations. With increased enforcement coming from both OSHA and NYCDOB, contractors should be extra vigilant in order to save lives and avoid crippling financial penalties. The STA will continue to keep you informed of new safety rules and regulations at both the federal and local levels.