OSHA Penalties levied against Connecticut companies for violations of occupational safety rules dropped more than 50% between 2011 and 2015, according to a C-HIT analysis.

The same study found that the number of cases with penalties fell by 40%.

Data from Bridgeport and Hartford OSHA offices show initial penalties against Connecticut employers totaled $10.86 million in 2011 and dropped to $5.07 million in 2015.

Companies were able to negotiate settlements, lowering actual penalty payments to $6.26 million in 2011, and $3.51 million in 2015.

In addition, OSHA inspections have declined nationally in recent years, from 40,993 in fiscal 2010 to 35,820 in 2015, according to OSHA’s enforcement report.

The total number of violations in all 50 states cited by the agency dropped from 96,742 in 2010 to 65,044 in 2015.

Although penalties dropped by over half in the last five years, data show workplace injuries have declined at a slower rate, 25% during the same period.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 60,500 cases of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses were reported at Connecticut workplaces in 2011. By 2015, that number fell sharply to 45,200 cases.

The number of high-penalty cases in Connecticut (more than $40,000) also declined from 2011 to 2015.

In 2011, there were 30 cases with fines of $2.26 million, compared to 15 cases and $1.09 million in fines in 2015.

Trends for 2016

For the first nine months of 2016, there were 312 OSHA cases in Connecticut, with initial penalties of $2.52 million.

Of these, 12 were high-penalty cases, with initial fines totaling $700,000.

By comparison, in the first nine months of 2015, there were 474 cases with initial fines amounting to $4.34 million; and 14 high-penalty cases totaling $926,031 in initial fines.

Most companies are already taking various steps, such as more focused audits of their safety processes and increased worker input on plant safety, to ensure the safety of their workers.
On Dec. 16, BLS also reported that the number of work-related fatalities in Connecticut increased from 35 in 2014 to 44 in 2015.

Nationally, fatal work injuries climbed to 4,836 in 2015, the highest since 2008, when 5,214 fatalities were reported. In 2014, 4,821 occupational fatalities were reported, 15 fewer than last year.

What’s next?

Going forward, paid fines are expected to rise sharply as a result of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, which required OSHA, as of Aug. 1 2016, to increase its civil penalty amounts by up to 80%.

Congress approved the increases last year to adjust rates for inflation; OSHA penalties had not changed since 1990.

Maximum fines for less-serious violations rose from $7,000 to $12,600, and for willful and repeated violations, from a maximum of $70,000 per violation to $124,709.

“When the increases were announced, companies were concerned about the possible impact to their fiscal well-being,” says CBIA Director of Compensation Services Phillip Montgomery.

“Most companies are already taking various steps, such as more focused audits of their safety processes and increased worker input on plant safety, to ensure the safety of their workers,” says Montgomery.

Attorneys representing employers said companies need more support and resources to ensure worker safety.

Michael Harrington of Murtha Cullina LLP in Hartford, who is chairman of his firm’s Labor and Employment Practice Group, says OSHA should be more proactive in helping companies to improve their workplace standards, especially small businesses struggling with limited resources.

“I feel bad that OSHA can’t have more flexibility to help a company become more compliant.

“Rather, they just look at it from a penal perspective,” he says.


This story was reported under a partnership with the Connecticut Health I-Team (www.c-hit.org) and first appeared here.