Companies that contested Nevada workplace safety citations after an employee died on the job received reduced fines about half the time.
An analysis of state and federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration fatality records by the Las Vegas Review-Journal showed that the state agency reduced fines by $440 to $89,600 over the past seven years. The average reduction was $11,420, the newspaper reported.
Jess Lankford, Nevada OSHA’s chief administrative officer, said it’s common for the agency to work with companies informally to reduce the fine if the employer corrects safety issues.
More than 160 people have died on the job in southern Nevada from 2010 to 2016, resulting in fines for 36 companies, according to the newspaper’s analysis.
The state agency will fine employers up to $50,000 for a first-time violation that caused a worker’s death. Subsequent offenses raise the fine up to $100,000. The federal agency’s fines range from $12,675 to $126,749.
Jordan Barab, former deputy assistant secretary of the national agency, said a fine is just “the cost of doing business” for many employers and that there is room to raise penalties. States with their own version of the agency have lower penalties in general than the federal OSHA, he said.
High fines are intended to help deter other companies from violating safety standards, but sometimes they are not enough, said David Michaels, a former assistant secretary of labor for the national agency.
“There’s pretty good evidence that talking about OSHA’s enforcement activities publicly influences other employers to prevent injuries, even when OSHA doesn’t do inspections,” Michaels said. “It’s very important to keep fines high, to talk about those fines, and get press about them to get them into public awareness.”
Criminal penalties could help make citations more effective after a death in the workplace, Barab said.
“Local authorities in a lot of states in the past have pursued criminal prosecutions as well,” Barab said. “That’s another route to go, and that generally has a lot bigger impact on employers than OSHA’s relatively small financial penalties.”
After 49-year-old Porfirio Gonzalez-Huerta fell 15 feet to his death at a construction site in August 2015, Nevada OSHA fined his employer, A-Team, $4,800.
Violations included insufficient guards around an unprotected edge and insufficient training for employees exposed to falls. The fine was reduced to $3,600 in an informal settlement.
A representative with A-Team did not return the Review-Journal’s requests for comment.
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