OSHA keeps workers safe by providing information, training and assistance to both employers and laborers. But another tool it uses to stop workers from getting injured or killed on the job is fining companies that don’t follow safety rules.
OSHA breaks violations down into three categories, each with a different monetary penalty:
- Serious and Other-Than-Serious: $12,934 per violation
- Failure to Abate: $12,934 per day beyond the abatement date
- Willful or Repeated: $129,336 per violation
When inspectors find multiple violations on a job site, these amounts can add up. So what are the largest OSHA fines ever imposed?
#5 – Samsung Guam, Inc.
Date: September 21, 1995
Total penalty: $8,260,000
OSHA levied this fine against a construction company after inspectors visited a job site at Guam’s International Airport.
Tino Serrano, a spokesman for the U.S. Labor Department in San Francisco, said investigators found Samsung Guam, Inc. guilty of 118 instances of willful workplace safety violations.
OSHA officials cited a high number of falls by workers from unsafe scaffolding – including one fatal fall. Son Dul-kun, a 41-year-old welder from South Korea, died after falling from unsecured steel decking on a roof overhang.
“One employee was impaled on a steel bar, another suffered a broken hip, and now an accident leaves behind a widow and two young children,” said Joseph Dear, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety.
#4 – O&G Industries, Inc.
Date: August 3, 2010
Total penalty: $8,347,000
OSHA assessed this penalty after an explosion in February 2010 that killed six workers at a power plant in Middletown, CT.
The blast happened as workers shot flammable natural gas through a supply pipe to purge it of debris. An additional fifty people were injured in the explosion.
Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis said the construction companies had disregarded accepted industry procedures, their own safety guidelines, and “common sense.”
“These fines and penalties reflect the gravity and severity of the deadly conditions created by the companies managing the work at the site,” Solis said. “No operation and no deadline is worth cutting corners and costing a single human life.”
#3 – Imperial Sugar
Date: July 25, 2008
Total penalty: $8,777,500
This fine came after an explosion at one of the company’s plants in February 2008. It also followed an incident where inspectors discovered further safety and health violations at another plant in Gramercy, LA.
The citations alleged that the company failed to properly address combustible dust hazards.
“The 2008 explosion took the lives of 14 people and seriously injured dozens of others. Clearly, health and safety must become this company’s top priority,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis. “This agreement requires Imperial Sugar to make extensive changes to its safety practices, and it underscores the importance of proactively addressing workplace safety and health hazards.”
#2 – IMC Fertilizer/Angus Chemical
Date: October 10, 1991
Total penalty: $11,550,000
On May 1, 1991, an explosion killed 8 workers at a fertilizer plant in Sterlington, LA. The blast also injured 120 others.
OSHA said an investigation found that IMC Fertilizer had allegedly exposed 223 employees to the risk of fire and explosion.
In exchange for securing the then-record fine of $10 million, OSHA agreed not to accuse the companies of “willful,” or intentional, wrongdoing.
“The settlement neither excuses nor justifies the violations found by OSHA in its investigation of this needless tragedy,” said Secretary of Labor Lynn Martin. “They can’t be justified; they will not be excused.”
#1 – BP Products North America
Dates: October 29, 2009 and September 21, 2005
Total Penalties: $102,701,500
In March 2005, safety violations at BP’s Texas City, TX refinery resulted in a massive explosion, with 15 deaths and 170 people injured. BP entered into a settlement agreement with OSHA, under which BP agreed to correct the hazards that caused the 2005 tragedy.
However, the correction process was not up to OSHA’s standards.
“When BP signed the OSHA settlement from the March 2005 explosion, it agreed to take comprehensive action to protect employees,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis. “Instead of living up to that commitment, BP has allowed hundreds of potential hazards to continue unabated.”
Safety issues cited in OSHA’s 2005 and 2009 reports included problems with guards around wall openings and holes. Also included were issues related to the management of hazards associated with processes using highly hazardous chemicals.