As we all know, OSHA fines and penalties are a worst-case scenario to be avoided at all costs for most employers.

No one likes to think about the big, bad “what if”s of the world.”

With that being said, if the worst does happen and an employee does get inspected and cited, the employer has a choice to either pay the citation without objection or contest the citation if they believe the claim is inappropriate or unfairly calculated.

How much is an OSHA fine?  The average OSHA inspection will result in $30,000 – $80,000 in fines, but often exceeds $100,000 or more in many cases.

Having said that, it’s important to understand what factors play into the cost calculation.

OSHA violations cost fluctuates based on the seriousness of the situation, the employer’s reputation when it comes to health and safety, and other relevant factors, specific citation penalties are assigned.

Let’s dive into a few specific factors that play a role in how fines are doled out.

How Much Are OSHA Fines?

  • Serious and Other Than Serious:  Maximum of $13,653 per violation.  Serious are the most common violations cited by OSHA
  • Repeat and Willful:  Maximum of $136,563 per violation.

Gravity of the Situation
The gravity of the situation is a prime factor in determining specific penalties for OSHA violations cases. The OSHA Field Operations Manual (“FOM” for short), defines “gravity” as “the severity of injury that could result from the alleged violation combined with the probability that an injury will occur”. The FOM also breaks down “severity” into tiers ranging from “minimal” to “high”. Depending on how severe an injury an employee could potentially get, the probability of an accident is then taken into account when determining the specific penalty to be handed down.

As one OSHA inspector explained to me, if the hazard could result in a “recordable injury” then the violation would likely result in at least a “Serious” violation, if not “Willful.”

Employer Reputation
At the end of the day, workplace safety is the primary goal of not only OSHA, but conscientious employers everywhere. In fact, OSHA actually targets workplaces that have consistently high injury and illness rates (ie: high TRIR and or DART scores). OSHA takes safety violations very seriously, and penalizes underachieving employers with the hopes that their financial punishment will discourage others from behaving similarly. Those in leadership roles who do not take health and safety seriously pose a huge risk to not only profitability, but lasting employee attitudes and overall company reputation. Employers who have received multiple violations are subject to increased fines (sometimes even multiplied ten times the normal amount) – this is a great incentive to contest fines that you truly believe were unduly calculated. Failure to do so might result in a less-than-legitimate “repeat offender” label.

OSHA inspectors can also gauge a company’s reputation by the attitude of senior management observed during the enforcement process.

Company Size
OSHA fine amounts also depend on the size of your company. Smaller employers generally receive smaller fines, it’s as simple as that. If you run a smaller business, check out our eBook detailing the Top 5 EHS Mistakes Made by Small Companies.

While any business owner would agree that having your business slapped with fines is never an ideal situation, refusal to pay is an avenue that employers do not want to consider going down.

What happens if you don’t pay OSHA fines?

There are definitely some things you need to take into consideration before deciding to ignore OSHA penalties.

If fatalities are involved as a result of negligence, company higher-ups like presidents and owners can have fines handed down to them personally, separated completely from the financial damage already inflicted on their businesses – in some cases these can go into the hundreds of thousands of dollars and even jail time. There is no situation where violators who do not pay their fines are not held accountable in some serious way. Avoid a complicated, drawn-out legal battle by making absolutely sure that you have a clear understanding of all OSHA rules and regulations as they pertain to your specific industry and company safety standards.

It’s also a good idea to prepare a company plan for how to manage a potential OSHA inspection.

Seriously, just pay your fines.

At the end of the day, there is no clear-cut answer to the question of how OSHA calculates penalties.

Multiple factors figure into these decisions, but the best way to avoid hefty OSHA fines is to simply take the initiative to make safety a real priority at your company before they have any reason to come knocking. As inconvenient as a fine is, OSHA criminal penalties are also a serious risk for employers that do not prioritize a company culture built around preventative safety policies.

For more information on how to proceed with planning and implementing a safety program at your workplace, be sure to visit

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