Fine & Not So Dandy


Fine & Not So Dandy

Whether increasing fines can force a change in industry safety practices remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure—the cost of failing to comply with OSHA standards is about to rise.  

“When OSHA got started with setting standards for safety, it was a great cause. At that time the framing industry was the Wild West and we needed safety standards to protect workers and help employers with guidelines on safety,” said Kenny Shifflett of Ace Carpentry in Manassas, Virginia. “What we see today is OSHA focusing on enforcement instead of the real reason the 1926 was written, which was to provide training and prevent accidents. I feel if OSHA changes to this new fine structure it will put a lot of small business framers out of business.”

The latest budget package nullified a 25-year-old law that prevented OSHA from raising the cost of penalties. OSHA is now tasked with reaching a final rule on penalty increases, some of which could be raised by nearly 80 percent on August 1 (see chart).

The implications for businesses are obvious and serious. Scott Stevens, president of Modu Tech in Baltimore, Maryland, says subcontractors at the bottom of the food chain will be affected most. Stevens said the smaller crews in the framing and installation fields will have a harder time dealing with the risk of an OSHA inspection and affording costly penalties if they occur. As such, many might be forced to close down when faced with these new fine levels.

Shifflett couldn’t agree more. He also sees the increases as a widening of the already existing communication gap between OSHA and crews in the field. He says less and less collaboration with OSHA officials is already occurring during site visits, and the increase in fines may only widen that gap. “I think the unfortunate part about this is OSHA has gone from trying to help prevent people from getting hurt, to the point that is, ‘how do we support ourselves?’”

Another way to look at the increases is as a deterrent: higher fines might boost companies’ efforts to avoid paying them, thereby inspiring crews to practice safety more intently. Shifflett acknowledges this might be the case for some businesses but not all. Larger companies, Ace Carpentry included, will certainly pay more attention; at the same time, large companies usually have better safety programs instituted anyway.

Big or small, component manufacturer or framer, the moral is the same: avoid these costly penalties. And that’s just what Shawn Jorgensen of Kylmala Truss in Saginaw, Minnesota, says is the most important takeaway from the new laws. “If you keep your workplace clean and safe, you won’t have to worry about those kinds of penalties.”

The easiest way to avoid a costly error is to make safety a focal point in your business. George Hull of Hull Associates, LLC in Grand Prairie, Texas, agrees with Jorgensen’s sentiments and will be the first to suggest everyone in the industry focus on being proactive instead of reactive.

“From a safety standpoint, let’s do a better job with training, being aware and things like that so you can take care of your business,” Hull said. “That’s where the National Framers Council (NFC) and FrameSAFE come into play. Everybody blows off a $2,000 fine, but when it becomes more like $12,000, it stings. Let’s make safety manuals like FrameSAFE, and the training it takes for it to become a key part of our business culture, a focal point.”

About the Author: A graduate of UW-Madison with a degree in Journalism, Matt Tanger has five years of experience in residential home construction. As a technical writer and member of the SBC Magazine team since 2014, he works closely with members of NFC and SBCA.