OSHA expands severe violator program

Dive Brief:

  • The Department of Labor is updating the criteria for OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program, expanding it to include violations of all hazards and standards across all industries. 
  • Doug Parker, OSHA assistant secretary, said the agency’s past criteria were “unnecessarily artificial and were not reaching employers who were committing repeat willful violations.”
  • OSHA estimates SVEP — which concentrates inspections on employers who have several willful, repeated or failure-to-abate violations —  includes roughly 500 employers currently. Parker estimated the changes would add 80 to 100 employers to the list each year, though he didn’t specify which industries they would come from.

Dive Insight:

According to OSHA, the updated criteria will include:

  • Employers with at least two willful or repeated violations will be put on the list, as well as those who receive failure-to-abate notices for high-gravity, serious violations.
  • Follow-up inspections made one year — but not longer than two years — after the final order. When a review committee affirms the citation and issues the final order, it obligates the employer to abate the citation.
  • Potential removal from the SVEP three years after receiving verification of abatement of hazards. In the past, removal could occur three years after the final order, not abatement. 
  • Allowing employers the ability to reduce their time on the list to two years — from three — if they consent to an enhanced settlement agreement that includes use of an approved safety management system.

Employers previously only landed in the SVEP for a limited number of standards, such as fall and excavation or trenching violations. It categorized employers into “construction” or “not construction” violators. 

Parker said the new standards won’t apply retroactively. For example, employers with existing, qualifying violations won’t immediately find themselves in SVEP, but previous violations will factor into OSHA adding employers to the program if new infractions occur.

What the change means

The change will likely impact more fixed worksite industries — such as manufacturing or healthcare — and fewer transient construction jobsites under the purview of smaller contractors. One of the reasons why, Parker said, is because smaller construction businesses are harder to track, collect fines from and ultimately remove from SVEP.

“I think there’s always going to be small employers who fall into the program and because of the difficulty tracking them, they’re going to linger around,” Parker said, though he noted changing the trigger to exit SVEP to abatement, versus a final order, could incentivize employers to act to get off the list.

Ultimately, landing in the SVEP comes down to compliance. When inspections yield repeated citations, that is when SVEP comes into play as a disincentive. As a result, increased inspections are key to SVEP’s success. 

Parker said that OSHA plans to ramp up inspections under the current administration. OSHA inspections across all industries have steadily declined since 2011. In 2021, OSHA had 40% fewer inspections than a decade earlier, according to Construction Dive analysis of publicly available information. SVEP was formed in 2010.

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