Workplace Safety and Health: OSHA's Oversight of Its Civil Penalty Determination and Violation Abatement Processes Has Limitations Page: 3 of 32
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Accountability * Integrity * Reliability
United States Government Accountability Office
Washington, DC 20548
August 13, 2004
The Honorable Elaine L. Chao
Secretary of Labor
Dear Madame Secretary:
This report presents the findings of our study of the Department of Labor's
Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) determination of
civil penalties and abatement of violations. The objective of the study was
to assess the extent of OSHA's oversight of the civil penalty determination
and the violation abatement processes. In addition, we developed a
statistical model, known as a multivariate analysis, to better understand
factors that influenced variation in penalty amounts. On July 7, 2004, we
briefed Labor officials on the results of our study. This letter report
formally conveys the information we presented at that briefing (see app.
OSHA penalties are a critical enforcement strategy meant to deter
employers from violating safety and health standards. In fiscal year 2003,
OSHA proposed civil penalties that totaled over $114 million and
conducted inspections across approximately 40,000 employers. In
determining the penalty amount, OSHA inspectors must apply four factors
identified in the Occupation Safety and Health Act of 1970:' (1) the gravity
of the violation, (2) the size of the business, (3) the employer's history of
previous violations, and (4) the good faith of the employer.2 OSHA's Field
Inspection Reference Manual (FIRM) contains the criteria inspectors
should use in applying each of these four factors. For example, in
assessing gravity, the manual instructs that the inspector consider two
elements, severity and probability, which are then to be analyzed on a
'Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, OSHA is authorized to issue citations for
violations of the act and propose penalties. Appeals are heard by the Occupational Safety
and Health Review Commission, an independent federal agency, which has the authority to
assess penalties. If a penalty is deemed proper, the commission considers a number of
factors to determine the amount of the assessment. Citations and proposals that are not
appealed become final decisions of the commission. 29 U.S.C. 658, 659 (2000). Because
most citations and proposed penalties are not appealed to the Commission, we refer only
to OSHA's enforcement activities in this report.
229 U.S.C. 666(j).
GAO-04-920 Workplace Safety and Health
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United States. Government Accountability Office. Workplace Safety and Health: OSHA's Oversight of Its Civil Penalty Determination and Violation Abatement Processes Has Limitations, report, August 13, 2004; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc296991/m1/3/: accessed November 15, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.