Connecticut employers have seen fines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) drop by 50 percent between 2011 and 2015, and the number of cases with penalties associated also dropped by 40 percent during those four years.
Bridgeport and Hartford OSHA offices reported data on initial penalties levied against employers as well as payments from employers after negotiations. In 2011, initial fines against employers totaled $10.86 million and in 2016 it was reported at $5.07 million. In 2011, negotiated settlement payments were reported at $6.26 million and reported at $3.51 million by 2015. According to initial data from the beginning of the year these reductions are on track to continue for 2016.
There are different ways to look at the reasons behind these reductions. Some say that this is because of the success of government efforts to ensure compliance with safety standards and step up regulation. Others say that this may be because employers and employees are not reporting all the workplace incidents that they should be.
Inspections by OSHA have also declined by 10 percent in Connecticut and the number of compliance officers has declined by 21 percent. This decline is happening nationwide as well- inspections are down about 12 percent between 2010 and 2015. The number of violations levied by the agency also decreased by 33 percent in those five years. Workplace injuries have declined by 25 percent over the last five years according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, however according to data from a UConn Health study the number of occupational illnesses and injuries increased by 8 percent between 2013 and 2014. Tim Morse, a UConn Health professor who authored the study, said that illnesses are often harder to identify because an injury happens quickly but an illness can be drawn out over time.
A member of the Connecticut AFL-CIO’s Health and Safety Committee, Steven Schrag says he thinks that the number of reported injuries is more or less an estimate, as employers do not report every injury. Workers who are not unionized may not want to speak out or be a whistleblower, he says.
This summer OSHA penalties were increased. The maximum penalty for a willful and repeated violation jumped to $124,709 from $70,000. Employers are worried about their bottom line, and the harsher fines may be driving them to implement better safety standards.