In an announcement that expands the criteria for entry into the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Severe Violator Enforcement Program, OSHA has signaled that it is making enforcement a priority and that employers with willful, repeat, and failure-to-abate violations will be subject to significant consequences.
- On September 15, 2022, OSHA announced that it was expanding its criteria for entering employers into its Severe Violator Enforcement Program (“SVEP”). The updated SVEP directive is available here.
- Previously, entry into the program was limited to cases involving fatalities, three or more hospitalizations, high-emphasis hazards, the potential release of a highly hazardous chemical, and enforcement actions classified as egregious.
- Now, an employer can be entered into the program in cases involving two or more willful, repeat, or failure-to-abate violations, regardless of the hazard involved. They will continue to be subject to entry in the program in certain cases involving fatalities, three or more hospitalizations, and enforcement actions classified as egregious.
- In light of this expansion, employers should review their compliance records and current health and safety practices and consider whether further actions are needed to mitigate enforcement risks.
In 2010, OSHA created the Severe Violator Enforcement Program to “concentrate resources on inspecting employers who have demonstrated indifference to their OSH Act obligations by willful, repeated, or failure-to-abate violations.” Under the original SVEP, OSHA would designate employers as “severe violators” if they were involved in an enforcement action:
- Involving a fatality in which OSHA found one or more willful, repeat, or failure-to-abate violations;
- Involving a catastrophe (three or more hospitalizations) in which OSHA found one or more willful, repeat, or failure-to-abate violations;
- Involving a high-emphasis hazard in which OSHA found two or more high-gravity willful, repeat, or failure-to-abate violations;
- Involving the potential release of a highly hazardous chemical in which OSHA found three or more high-gravity willful, repeat, or failure-to-abate violations; or
- Classified by OSHA as “egregious.”
Employers entered into the SVEP were subject to consequences that included mandatory enhanced follow-up inspections, a nationwide inspection of related workplaces, negative publicity, enhanced settlement provisions, and the potential for federal court enforcement under Section 11(b) of the OSH Act.
Under the new criteria, employers will continue to be entered into the SVEP in enforcement actions involving a fatality or catastrophe in which OSHA found one or more willful, repeat, or failure-to-abate-violations and in enforcement actions classified as egregious.
In a departure from the original criteria, cases involving two or more high-gravity willful, repeat, or failure-to-abate violations will also be entered into the SVEP, regardless of whether they are linked to a certain hazard or standard. As a result of this change, OSHA expects that more employers will be entered into the SVEP.
Other Key Changes
In addition to expanding the criteria for entry into the SVEP, OSHA made key changes regarding follow-up inspections and removal from the SVEP.
- Follow-up OSHA inspections must occur within one year, but not longer than two years after the final order. Previously, there was no required timeframe for conducting follow-up inspections.
- Eligibility for removal will begin three years after the date an employer completes abatement. Previously, that period began running on the final order date.
- If an employer implements an enhanced settlement agreement that includes the use of a safety and health management system that follows OSHA’s Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs, the employer can be eligible for removal after two years.
These changes signify that OSHA is prioritizing enforcement and intends to impose significant consequences on employers that repeatedly and/or willfully violate OSHA requirements. Employers should review their compliance records and current health and safety practices and evaluate whether additional action is needed to mitigate the risk for willful, repeat, or failure-to-abate violations and entry into the SVEP.