In a sense, H&H Woodworking of Yonkers, NY, got off easy when the Occupational Safety and Health Administration levied $130,800 in fines for two willful and 24 serious violations of safety and health standards on April 19. The dollar count and additional sanctions likely would have been far greater for H&H and other companies penalized by OSHA if the violations had been discovered after June 18, when the federal safety agency's new Severe Violators Enforcement Program took effect.

OSHA investigators sprang in to action after an H&H employee sustained a partial hand amputation on an unguarded radial arm saw. 

"Our inspection found that the blades on this and other saws lacked the guarding designed to prevent just this type of accident," said Diana Cortez, OSHA's area director in Tarrytown, NJ. "In addition, we identified a range of mechanical, chemical and fire hazards (including combustible dust) that, if uncorrected, expose employees to the dangers of flash fires, eye injury, hazardous substances and an inability to exit the workplace swiftly in the event of a fire or other emergency."

What made the case all the more alarming is that OSHA doled out two willful citations with $84,000 in fines. A willful violation is one in that OSHA says is "committed with plain indifference to or intentional disregard for employee safety and health."

Under OSHA between 1990-June 17, 2010, the maximum monetary penalty for a willful violation was $70,000. Under the new SVEP, the maximum fine for a willful violation is $250,000 and will be adjusted for inflation moving forward.

H&H was also fined $46,800 for 24 serious violations. Under the SVEP, fines for each of the serious violations would have been up to six times more.

Not to hard to conceive, under the SVEP, H&H could have faced more than $500,000 in fines.On top of this, H&H would have been prominently etched on OSHA's radar for follow-up inspections. In addition, if H&H had multiple operations, theose plant would automatically be subject to OSHA reviews.

Almost hard to believe amid this is that OSHA had to assemble a special panel that concluded fines established in 20 years ago were no longer a sufficient deterrent to deter employers that do not make employee safety a primary goal. (And some of you thought only third world factories place workers in peril.)

OSHA claims that 4.6 million workers are seriously injured on the job each year.

"For many employers, investing in job safety happens only when they have adequate incentives to comply with OSHA's requirements," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Dr. David Michaels. "Higher penalties and more aggressive, targeted enforcement will provide a greater deterrent and further encourage these employers to furnish safe and healthy workplaces for their employees."

Are you in favor of OSHA's SVEP or do you think it oversteps the bounds of what a wood products company can reasonably be expected to do to safeguard its workforce? If not SVEP, what might be a better approach? to protect workers?

Bring it on....

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