Federal penalties for workplace-safety violations were increased this week for the first time since 1990. The move would bring the fines in line with inflation over the past 25 years.
In the future, fines from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration and state workplace safety agencies would continue to rise with inflation.
Still, even after an expected increase of as much as roughly 80%, OSHA fines will remain tiny compared to those issued by many other regulatory agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency. The new fines are due to be set some time next year.
Workplace-safety experts from both industry and labor said they were caught by surprise by the new mandate, which they say will likely increase maximum fines for the most severe citations to $125,000 from $70,000 and for other serious violations to $12,500 from $7,000.
The maximum allowable fines may also end up being lower than that following a rule-making process, they say.
OSHA was one of only a handful of federal agencies that were specifically exempted from a 1990 bill that required federal agencies to raise their fines to keep pace with inflation.
An OSHA spokeswoman said the agency is still reviewing the legislation.
The average fine last year for an incident in which a worker died was $7,000, reduced to $5,050 following settlement talks, according to the AFL-CIO.
Some industry representatives said they would work within the rule-making process to oppose the higher fines, worried they would be onerous for small business.