The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets workplace standards for U.S. business and industry. The government agency has rule-making power, which means that its standards carry the same weight as laws passed by Congress. Violations of its standards result in citations, fines and criminal charges.
OSHA has the legal authority to inspect the workplace and procedures to ensure it meets standards. It usually does not provide notice for inspections but may provide up to 24 hours notice in limited cases, such as the need for the presence of certain personnel. The compliance officer informs the employer of any violations during the closing conference of the inspection then submits a compliance report to the agency's area director. The agency can take legal action if an employer refuses to admit an OSHA compliance officer.
When conditions in the workplace do not meet OSHA standards, the area director issues a citation for each violation as documented by the compliance officer. These citations contain the violation, the minimum standard the employer must meet, the deadline for meeting it and the penalty for the violation.
Of the six categories of violations, only de minimis, or minimal, violations carry no monetary penalty. A de minimis violation has no direct effect on safety or health. Other violations carry fines of $5,000 to $500,000, generally per violation. Serious violations carry a minimum penalty of $7,000 per violation, while willful violations carry a minimum of $5,000 with a cap of $70,000 per violation. The fine for a criminal conviction of a willful violation resulting in the death of an employee caps at $250,000 for an individual and $500,000 for a corporation.
Criminal penalties exist only for a willful violation resulting in the death of an employee. If convicted of criminal charges, the courts may impose a prison sentence of up to six months.