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New rules, higher fines: How to be OSHA-compliant in 2023

By The Fulcrum Team
March 22, 2023

As companies get fully back to work following several tumultuous years, OSHA is reasserting its presence and re-emphasizing the importance of workplace safety. 

Effective January 5, 2023, OSHA raised the penalty rate to $15,625 per violation (up from $14.502). Eleven days later, OSHA provided new guidance for inspectors doing Instance-by-Instance (IBI) and “grouping” citations, two initiatives that will increase the scope and impact of its enforcement when they come into effect at the end of March.

By increasing fines and allowing for different ways of assessing penalties – alongside increasing its inspection workforce by 19% in 2022 – OSHA is making a clear statement, one that all EHS professionals should heed:  it’s more important than ever to have a safe, compliant workplace and ensure safety programs are OSHA-ready. 

Join us as we break down OSHA’s new measures and look at how digital field safety inspection software can both protect workers from harm and workplaces from OSHA liability.

Instance-by-Instance (IBI) citation

Inspectors can now cite “high-gravity” serious violations of OSHA standards as Instance-by-Instance (IBI) citations. This means that instead of one blanket penalty for several instances of the same violation, non-compliant businesses will be cited for each instance of the violation throughout the worksite, with the potential for much higher fines overall.  

For example, consider a 200-meter trench dug at a horizontal construction site. If the trench does not comply with sloping requirements in five different places, instead of citing once for non-compliant trench sloping, OSHA examiners can cite each instance of sloping variance for violation, with the same fine levied for each instance.

This a significant departure from previous OSHA policy, which only considered willfully egregious cases where employers intentionally disregarded or were indifferent to health and safety standards. The new IBI policy will greatly increase the potential number of citations and result in significantly higher penalty amounts.

 The end of “grouping” violations

OSHA is also looking to cite more violations separately rather than grouping them together. 

Previously, when two or more violations constituted a single hazardous condition, OSHA inspectors often “grouped” several violations into one citation. However, the agency’s new initiative discourages grouping violations when there is evidence that violations are separate and distinct. 

Returning to our trench example, OSHA requires employers to provide ladders or other safe means of egress for workers in trench excavations 4 feet or deeper. At the same time, they also require all trench workers be protected from materials falling or rolling into an excavation by keeping equipment at least 2 feet from the edge of the trench. For example, let’s say a ladder that is used to enter and exit the trench is not firmly secured (violation #1), but instead is placed by the edge of the trench (violation #2) for workers to freely reach up and use it at will. Previously, an inspector would have likely grouped these related violations together into one citation, but is now encouraged to issue two separate citations. 

By citing violations separately, OSHA hopes to create a more accurate picture of the hazards present in the workplace and encourage employers to take steps to address each violation. Much like IBI citation, discouraging “grouping” will result in higher total penalty amounts and more total violations for employers. 

Field safety inspection software ensures OSHA-compliant workplaces

OHS professionals need to prepare for these updated enforcement standards by reviewing their current safety and health programs, retraining employees on workplace safety where necessary, and investing in the right tools to make this happen. 

Let’s look at a few ways digital field safety inspection software protects workers from harm and workplaces from OSHA liability.

  • SOPs to guide workers: Creating SOPs is essential to ensure that workers perform their tasks correctly and safely. By implementing consistent protocols across individuals, teams, and projects, organizations achieve safer outcomes and better-quality work. With the help of digital field inspection platforms, managers can create customizable checklists to describe SOPs for any task, so that everyone is on the same page about what needs to be done. This approach also benefits new and inexperienced workers who can access step-by-step instructions with supporting multimedia, such as video or pictures, from their mobile devices. By reducing cognitive workload and providing clear guidance, workers can focus on meeting the best standards while completing their tasks.
  • Community-wide reporting of safety issues: Digital platforms harness employees’ visibility and knowledge as they go about their daily work and who are more familiar with workplace conditions than dedicated safety inspectors who only visit occasionally. By allowing anyone on the job site to quickly report an issue through a QR code, user-friendly inspection software facilitates community reporting of safety issues, effectively turning every employee into an inspector. When workers help identify and manage safety issues and workplace hazards, you create a strong culture of proactive responsibility that prioritizes reporting as an essential task for everyone to undertake. 
  • Remediation made easy: Field inspection platforms provide managers and teams with the fast-circulating and comprehensive data they need to be agile and responsive to existing on-site safety issues and emerging hazards. Managers can track all inspection activities through performance- and issue-tracking dashboards, which provide data-driven visibility to identify potential gaps and allow for quick and efficient tasking of remediation efforts. Just like inspection tasks, managers can quickly create, assign, schedule, and track remediation and follow-up inspections to ensure timely resolution of issues, creating a comprehensive safety response effort that promotes collaboration, reduces risk, promotes safety, and ensures compliance.
  • Data at the ready: In the event of an accident or violation, having a complete digital record of reliable safety inspection data immediately available to share with OSHA can help prove due diligence. Demonstrating compliance efforts may even help to lessen the risk of more vigorous assessment of violations and the levying of fines.

Digital safety and liability protection 

OSHA’s new penalty and citation framework signals the renewed urgency with which the agency is enforcing workplace safety – and should rightfully change how you both view and respond to compliance measures. 

Digital inspection management tools make it easy to be OSHA-compliant because they make safety easy. Day in, day out, user-friendly and automated digital platforms guide workers to better, safer work, promote community reporting, and ensure timely remediation of safety issues – all before OSHA even shows up. In other words, a digital field safety inspection platform like Fulcrum is the apple a day that keeps OSHA at bay.

Prepare for the new OSHA penalty and enforcement guidance by signing up for a free trial of Fulcrum’s industry-leading safety inspection platform.