Reviewing OSHA Trends and New Rules for 2022

What’s new with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in 2022?

Quite a bit — the administration is widely expected to increase inspections and use new enforcement mechanisms to ensure safe and healthful conditions for workers. For employers, the new year is an excellent time to review compliance considerations and make necessary improvements in equipment, training, and processes.

Reviewing OSHA Trends and New Rules for 2022

Below, we’ll discuss several trends in OSHA enforcement in 2022. We’ll also review a proposed rule change and identify some of the top citations from last year.

1. The Department of Labor Will Increase Civil Penalties for Non-Compliance In 2022.

The Department of Labor has the authority to increase OSHA non-compliance penalties through the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015 (we’ll note here that this isn’t a typo — the name of the act is somewhat redundant).

OSHA monetary penalties rise with inflation, and given the significant inflation of the past year, non-compliant employers may see hefty fines in 2022:

  • OSHA’s maximum penalties for “serious and other-than-serious" violations will increase from $13,653 per violation to $14,502 per violation.
  • OSHA’s maximum penalty for “willful or repeated violations" will increase from $136,532 per violation to $145,027 per violation.

The new fines apply to any penalties assessed after January 15, 2022. However, the administration provides some leeway for employers in some situations — new rules are generally designed to allow employers to maintain compliance if they followed the guidance of older standards when designing safety systems (we’ll discuss an example later in this article).

2. OSHA’s Budget Will Rise in 2022 — and So Will Enforcement.

Employers have powerful incentives to provide safe working environments in 2022. Of course, safe conditions lead to more productivity and better throughput — for most businesses, compliance is a secondary consideration.

But over the next year, OSHA will likely receive an increase in its enforcement budget, which will likely lead to more inspections (and more citations). This change is already underway: A January 2022 report from Industrial Safety & Hygiene News (ISHN) notes that OSHA enforcement rose in the first full year of the Biden administration. Complaints also rose significantly over the pandemic, but to date, OSHA hasn’t had the resources to expand inspections to keep pace.

That’s partly due to budget limitations. In 2019, OSHA’s budget increased by less than one percent relative to the previous year. Over 2020 and 2021, the administration’s budget increased by about 4 percent — but in 2022, OSHA’s budget is expected to increase by 12.3 percent.

The increase would help to fulfill President Biden’s campaign promise to increase the number of OSHA investigators by as much as 100%. In 2021, the number of OSHA inspectors was historically low, but Biden’s 2022 budget calls for 207 new enforcement employees and 63 new whistleblower investigators.

3. OSHA Will Widely Publicize Violations (and Perceived Violations).

Over the next few years, OSHA is expected to widely publicize citations (a policy sometimes referred to as “regulation by shaming").  During the Obama administration, the agency began publishing citations — in many cases, before the employer had a chance to respond.

While “regulation by shaming" is controversial, it’s effective: An analysis from one Duke University researcher found that for ensuring future compliance, a single OSHA press release about citations can have the same effect as 200 agency inspections.

ISHN notes that OSHA increased the pace of press release publication in 2021, focusing heavily on enforcement of COVID-19 policies. With a revitalized budget and more enforcement employees, OSHA will likely pursue an aggressive approach towards perceived violations.

Related Article: Are OSHA Regulations the Same as Laws?

4. The Most Common OSHA Violations in 2021

With that in mind, what types of violations are most likely to result in an OSHA citation (or an OSHA press release)?

The answer largely depends on the employer’s industry and region — but OSHA provides some guidance here. Each year, the administration publishes the top 10 most frequently cited workplace safety standards. Here’s OSHA’s 2021 Top 10 list:

# Safety Standard Description OSHA Standard Number of Violations
1 Fall Protection — General Requirements 1926.501 5,295
2 Respiratory Protection 1910.134 2,527
3 Ladders 1926.1053 2,026
4 Scaffolding 1926.451 1,948
5 Hazard Communication 1910.1200 1,947
6 Lockout/Tagout 1910.147 1,698
7 Fall Protection — Training Requirements 1926.503 1,666
8 PPE - Eye and Face Protection 1926.102 1,452
9 Powered Industrial Trucks 1910.178 1,420
10 Machine Guarding 1910.212 1,113

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5. New OSHA Guidance: Guardrail Standards Are Changing.

OSHA rules will also change somewhat this year, although currently, the proposed changes are minor. Recently, the United States Department of Labor has proposed a new OSHA rule to clarify requirements for handrails and stair rail systems.

The proposal would modify OSHA 1910.28, “Duty to have fall protection and falling object protection,” a general industry standard that applies to walking and working surfaces. In a press release, the Department of Labor noted that the agency "has received numerous questions asking when handrails are required, and about the height requirements for handrails on stairs and stair rail systems.”

By clarifying the requirements of the standard, OSHA hopes to improve compliance — and provide some degree of flexibility for organizations who need to implement changes to comply with the new standard.

What Are OSHA’s New Handrail and Stair Rail Requirements?

OSHA published its final rule on walking-working surfaces and fall protection systems on November 18, 2016 (81 Federal Register 82494). The agency received numerous requests for clarification of that standard — and since the original rule contained extensive data regarding its intent, OSHA has proposed new language in line with the original intent of the authors.

The full text of the proposed changes is accessible online here, and employers are invited to submit comments on the proposed updates through the rulemaking portal. Two changes are currently proposed:

  •  1910.28(b) will be amended to clarify that a stair rail system with a handrail is required on the open side of certain stairways.
  •  1910.29(f) will be amended to ease a restriction on previously-installed stair rail systems by allowing the top rail of those systems to serve as a handrail when it is as low as 30 inches.

OSHA notes that handrail and stair rail systems installed before the effective date of the new final rule will not require modification, provided that the systems were fully compliant at the time they were installed.

For Employers, OSHA Compliance Remains a Priority.

Given OSHA’s regulatory agenda, employers should take immediate action to verify compliance — that means making necessary investments in equipment, safety training, and OSHA-compliant labeling. While reviewing OSHA compliance can be time consuming, it’s far less expensive than the alternative.

If your business is considering investments in safety, BHS has resources to help you maintain compliance — and improve throughput with ergonomically designed equipment. From Structural Barrier Rails to Personal Protective Equipment, BHS helps employers build safer, healthier, and more productive workplaces.

To learn more, call our team at 1.800.BHS.9500 to receive detailed information about BHS products.