American companies may face increased scrutiny and expenses this year as a wide range of OSHA regulatory changes are expected to come into effect.
Higher fines, a greater number of investigations and site visits, new workplace standards intended to prevent worker illness or injury, and other challenges to employers will emerge as the federal agency phases in new standards and regulatory practices, according to labor and employment attorney Joseph P. Paranac, Jr. in a recently published SafetyOutlook.com column.
In late 2015, OSHA fines for workplace safety violations were increased for the first time since 1990.
“Expected to be implemented by August, OSHA will likely raise fines by an estimated 80%," said Paranac in a press release. "Businesses that routinely use chemicals in the workplace, construction companies, and manufacturers of chemicals may be most at risk for these new, higher fines.”
As the federal agency boosts the overall number of safety inspections it conducts each year, including "complex" inspections involving chemical manufacturing facilities and oil refineries, Paranac suggests that companies engage in "self-audits" of safety procedures and incidents to proactively "clean house" before visits from OSHA.
The agency's Hazard Communication Standards, mandating that employers take preventative measures and offer training to product workers from hazardous materials, are expected to be phased in on June 1. Under new standards, employers must also make material safety data sheets available to employees, which lists the potential hazards of some substances.
“Employers should review the new standard, ensure they’re in compliance, and can assume that there will be a big jump in OSHA compliance HazCom inspections,” said Paranac.
While some may view OSHA's changes as beneficial for American workers' health, Paranac describes the agency's moves as "activist stands" that will put "a significant burden on business’ operating expenses."