OSHA wrote off nearly $100 million in fines in three years
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration wrote off nearly $100 million in fines as uncollectible during the past three fiscal years, according to Bloomberg Law.
The rate of outstanding debt reflects about 20% of cited employers that do not pay their penalties. In response, this year, OSHA will start targeting those employers with follow-up inspections. The agency also recently began increasing attempts to collect fines.
During fiscal years 2018-20, OSHA annually closed out an average of 4,600 cases after attempts to collect fines failed. During fiscal years 2015-17, OSHA closed an average of 1,834 cases annually for nonpayment, with uncollected fines for the three years totaling $23.45 million.
Some agency officials and former OSHA officials reportedly cited reasons for the jump in bad debt cases, including small employers avoiding paying fines by changing identities and a Department of the Treasury software change that led to collection notices going unmailed.
Under the agency’s new collection initiative, OSHA headquarters will produce a monthly list of employers that have not paid fines on time and distribute the list to area offices. The bad debt cases will be added to lists of employers to be inspected as part of emphasis programs—such as preventing construction falls—or on a separate list if none of the emphasis programs apply to the employer.
OSHA also is boosting attempts to contact employers. Previously, demand letters were sent 30 and 60 days after inspection results became final. Now, OSHA also will send a letter at the one-week milestone and call the employer after two weeks have passed.
If OSHA does not collect a fine within 120 days, the bad debt case is forwarded to the Treasury Department, which has about two years to collect the fines. In accordance with federal debt collection guidelines, if the debt is not collected within about two years, OSHA is notified of the unpaid debt, and the inspection case typically is closed.
In rare circumstances, OSHA may ask the Treasury Department and the Department of Justice to file a federal debt collection lawsuit against an employer—often if a large fine is involved or a local OSHA office believes a business can be found.
New York law creates state registry of construction fatalities
A new law in New York expands the definition of “workers” and puts more responsibility on contractors to report fatalities to the state registry of on-the-job construction deaths, according to constructiondive.com.
Signed into law Feb. 16, New York Senate Bill S1302 amends previous language about workers to include “direct employees, contracted employees, subcontracted employees, independent contractors, temporary or contingency workers, apprentices, interns, volunteers” and other individuals. It also expands use of the term “contractor” to apply to a direct employer, contractor or subcontractor.
Text submitted with the bill explains how the definition of a workplace fatality differed among New York’s 58 county coroners and medical examiners and stated the bill’s intent is to accurately capture all on-the-job deaths in construction and work toward improving the safety and health of those on construction sites.
The legislation requires all coroners and medical examiners to report construction industry workplace deaths within 72 hours to New York State’s Department of Labor, which maintains the registry.
Once the information is catalogued, DOL must request further information from contractors about the incident and death, including the worker’s age, ethnicity, nationality, immigration and union status, and his or her craft or trade. DOL also may request whether criminal or civil charges have been filed against the contractor regarding the worker’s death.
Contractors have 90 days to respond or face penalties ranging from $1,000 to $2,500 per occurrence.