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Federal safety violation fines to increase on Aug. 1

Employers in New Jersey and around the county that violate the federal government's occupational health and safety laws will face far steeper fines after Aug. 1. The hike marks the first time that these fines have been increased in more than 20 years, and they will go up by more than 75 percent to account for inflation since 1990. The fines will now be adjusted annually according to the rate of inflation. The maximum fine for a single violation will increase from $7,000 to $12,471, and persistent violators could be fined as much as $124,709 for each violation.

The increases were authorized in the 2016 federal budget, which was signed into law in November 2015, and they will apply to any citations issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration on or after Aug. 1 relating to violations that occurred after Nov. 2, 2015. The increases follow OSHA rules adopted in 2015 that require employers to report worker fatalities within 8 hours and amputations, hospitalizations or the loss of an eye within 24 hours.

OSHA rules require most employers with 10 or more workers to keep detailed records of work-related illnesses and injuries, and these records must be maintained for at least five years. While certain low-risk industries are granted exemptions, employers who are required to keep these records must provide OSHA with a summary of illnesses and injuries each year.

Persistent violators of federal workplace safety laws face the possibility of both being fined by OSHA and being sued by injured workers. While the workers' compensation program generally precludes workers from filing lawsuits against their employers following workplace accidents, such litigation may be initiated in situations where the employers actions were so reckless that they amounted to a deliberate intent to cause harm. Attorneys with experience in this area could scrutinize OSHA violation records when determining whether or not such a lawsuit is warranted.

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