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OSHA fines minimal, despite serious safety violations

Mike Casey of The Kansas City Star examined OSHA's inspection database for the metropolitan area of Kansas City, Mo., to show that low fines for workplace deaths or injuries are common even when OSHA cites employers for a serious violation. The investigation found that in 80 such fatal and injury accidents, half of the fines Kansas City area employers paid were $3,000 or less. "Regulators and OSHA lawyers reduced employers' initial fines by nearly 60 percent. Adjusted for inflation, fines last year averaged less than they were in 1972." The paper also found that in three accidents that killed five area workers, OSHA changed its most serious citations from willful violations to "unclassified" — removing the word "willful" in describing the violations — and then significantly reduced the fines. Nationwide, fines were even lower in the last decade. Half of the fines employers paid were $2,500 or less in fatal and injury accidents involving at least one serious violation. (Editor's Note: For those interested in pursuing similar stories, IRE and NICAR have databases from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration available for journalists.)

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