OSHA Increase in Violation Penalties for 2021

OSHA Increase in Violation Penalties for 2021

On January 8, 2021, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), published a memo with regard to 2021 Annual Adjustments to OSHA Civil Penalties. You can read that memo in full online


As is customary, and by way of inflation adjustment acts going back as far as 1990, it allows OSHA to adjust the level of civil monetary penalties with an initial “catch-up” adjustment through an interim final rule, and make subsequent annual adjustments for inflation, no later than January 15 of each year.


Before we cover these increases for 2021, it's a good time for employers to go over the OSHA violation/penalty structure. Let us start with the definition of each violation:

  • Serious- Substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a condition which exists, or from one or more practices, means, methods, operations, or processes which have been adopted or are in use, in such place of employment unless the employer did not, and could not with the exercise of reasonable diligence, know of the presence of the violation.
  • Other Than Serious- Death or serious physical harm not probable result from a hazardous condition.
  • Willful- The intentional disregard of an OSHA rule or employee safety and health. This is the highest category of a serious violation which can also result in criminal charges against violators especially if the end result is a fatality, severe injury, or catastrophe.
  • Repeated- If an employer is cited for a specific violation, and through inspection history it is determined the employer was previously cited for the same or similar violation, they can be cited for a repeat violation.
  • Posting Requirement- When OSHA issues a citation for a specific violation, a copy of that citation is required to be prominently posted at or near each place a violation referred to in the citation occurred. If the employer fails to post a copy of the citation, they can be fined.
  • Failure to Abate- Some inspections indicate certain violations must be corrected by a specified date. If the employer fails to correct the condition by that date, they can be fined additional penalties for each day beyond the prescribed correction date.


More detailed information can be found within the OSHA Act of 1970 as well as OSHA 29CFR Part 1903- Inspections, Citations and Proposed Penalties.


Penalty Increases

After January 15, 2021, OSHA may levy the maximum penalty amounts for these violations:

  • Serious/Other-Than-Serious/Posting Requirements- $13,653.00 per violation
  • Failure to Abate- $13,653 per day beyond the abatement date
  • Willful or Repeated- $136,532.00 per violation


By comparison, this reflects the 2020 maximum amounts

  • Serious/Other-Than-Serious/Posting Requirements- $13,494.00
  • Willful/Repeated - $134,937.00


Because these are maximum penalty amounts; it is also important to mention that OSHA uses a Gravity Based Penalty (GBP) system to determine what range a penalty amount falls into. The gravity of a violation is the primary consideration in calculating penalties, established by assessing the severity of the injury/illness which could result from a hazard and the probability that an injury or illness could occur. The following charts should be used for reference:

Serious Violations

SeverityProbabilityGBPGravityOIS Code
High Greater $13,653 High 10
Medium Greater $11,703 Moderate 5
Low Greater $9,753 Moderate 5
High Lesser $9,753 Moderate 5
Medium Lesser $7,802 Moderate 5
Low Lesser $5,851 Low 1


Other-Than-Serious Violations

Minimal Greater $1,000-$13,653
Minimal Lesser $0


Penalty reductions may also be considered by OSHA on a specific employer case by case basis using qualifying factors. As part of OSHA’s Enforcement policy, employer violations may be cited and associated penalties levied as part of their targeted inspection programs and response to fatalities, catastrophes, and complaints. And contrary to common belief, these civil penalties are not covered by business insurance.


As you can see, not only can these civil penalties have significant financial impact to an employer’s business, but they can also become a permanent part of an employer’s OSHA violation history record, potentially affecting their brand and reputation. OSHA also publishes a running list of national major compliance violations.


Penalties are there to keep companies in compliance with important safety regulations. Avoid penalties by staying safe and following OSHA regulations.


Online OSHA training courses are available through NET. Stay up to date on OSHA compliance across a number of industries with our OSHA 10 Hour and OSHA 30 Hour courses.