OSHA: the Agency and Its Mission

OSHA is a small entity among federal agencies. It claims to have 1200 inspectors for federal enforcement purposes, but the actual number is probably closer to 900. In addition, there are 23 states that also enforce occupational safety and health, with OSHA oversight, adding another 1,000 to 1,200 inspectors to the field.

With such numbers, it would take OSHA perhaps 40 to 50 years to inspect every work place under its jurisdiction. In fact, OSHA tends to focus on certain areas and certain companies. There are many companies and many work sites that will never see an OSHA inspector.

By contrast, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is huge. OSHA has a lot of authority but little money and few people to enforce its standards. EPA, on the other hand, has limited authority with a large budget; this year's EPA budget is larger than the total of all OSHA budgets over the years of its existence.

To protect the safety and health of every American worker in the work place, OSHA needs a presence larger than its budget alone would allow. Recognizing that OSHA has an impossibly large area of jurisdiction, Congress wrote the law to allow first-instance sanctions; that is, the first time that OSHA determines that a violation exists, a penalty is assessed. With the threat of immediate penalty upon discovery or determination of a violation, Congress hoped to ensure work-place compliance with OSHA regulations.

OSHA Penalties

Before 1990, the maximum penalty for a willful violation was $10,000. In 1990, legislation was introduced in Congress that would raise it sevenfold; the maximum was raised to $70,000. Congress passed it, and President Bush signed it—not to encourage better compliance, but to bring in more money for the federal government. The then Assistant Secretary Jerry Scannell decided that raising all fines by a factor of seven was not wise, but that some increase was a good idea. Since $70,000 was a maximum and because OSHA has wide latitude in the imposition of penalties, he led OSHA in raising fines to two or three times what they had been. However, the Clinton administration can be expected to double the penalties again, nearly realizing the sevenfold increase originally intended by Congress.

In addition to higher penalties for violations, OSHA is known to use what is called the egregious multiplier. Ordinarily, if OSHA finds multiple, identical instances of a violation at a work site, the multiple instances will be classified as a single violation. However, if OSHA chooses to apply the egregious multiplier, each instance will be

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