OSHA has established a new club that very few will want to be a member of, the Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP). The SVEP was created to “concentrate resources on inspecting employers who have demonstrated indifference by committing willful, repeated, or failure-to-abate violations.” The goal of SVEP is to allow OSHA to devote special attention and scrutiny on those it considers the most egregious violators. SVEP replaces OSHA’s Enhanced Enforcement Program (EEP).
Falling under OSHA’s microscope can be costly for businesses already stressed in a down economy. Companies who wish to spare themselves the stigma and penalties associated with SVEP should follow OSHA guidelines and understand what can put them at risk for landing in SVEP.
Who Is a Candidate for SVEP?
SVEP membership focuses on those employers who have who have placed their employees in danger by committing willful, repeated, or failure-to-abate violations in one or more of the following circumstances:
- A fatality or catastrophe situation has occurred
- Employees are exposed in industry operations or processes to the most severe occupational hazards
- Employees are exposed in industry operations or processes to so-called “high-emphasis hazards”
- Employees are exposed to the potential release of a highly hazardous chemical and associated dangers
- Any enforcement action considered to be egregious
One way that a company can become an SVEP member is to expose employees to “high-emphasis hazards.” High-emphasis hazards cover a wide range of workplaces and have been defined by OSHA as hazards involving any of the following:
- Falls covered under:
- General industry standards
- Construction industry standards
- Shipyard standards
- Marine terminal standards
- Longshoring standards
- Combustible dust
- Crystalline silica
- Grain elevators
What Does Being in SVEP Mean?
The objective of SVEP is to focus OSHA efforts on working with the most dangerous potential violators. Companies who find themselves in SVEP will be subjected to “enhanced” follow-up inspections which may expand to nationwide inspections of related workplaces and work sites.
OSHA plans on raising awareness about its activities in the SVEP program, which means that citations and notifications of penalty are sent to the employer’s national headquarters and any unions associated with the workplace. OSHA may also issue media releases about potential safety hazards.
Employers may be required under SVEP provisions to hire a qualified safety and health consultant to develop and implement a comprehensive safety and health program at the work site. Other settlement provisions may include:
- Interim abatement controls (if OSHA does not believe that final abatement can occur in a short period of time)
- Providing a list of a company’s current and future job sites
- Quarterly filing of a log of work-related injuries and illnesses to OSHA along with consent that OSHA may inspect the work site based on information contained in these filings
- Employer consent to entry of a court enforcement order (this is covered under Section 11(b) of OSHA), including federal court
Along with these provisions, OSHA is also ramping up fines and penalties.
Key Take-Away Messages for Business
OSHA’s Enhanced Enforcement Program (EEP) is going away, but the new SVEP will focus OSHA’s attention on specific companies. Some of those companies will be OSHA’s most egregious violators, but they will not be alone. Companies that have exposed employees to hazards involving certain types of work (silica, grain silos, hazardous chemicals, and many others) can also land in SVEP as can any company at which a fatality or catastrophe occurred as a result of a violation. SVEP exposes a company to more inspections, tougher standards, and stiffer fines. The best approach to SVEP is to avoid doing anything that might cause OSHA to relegate the company to the ranks of SVEP. Such steps might include:
- Maintaining safety standards rigorously
- Responding to OSHA inspections and complaints promptly and effectively
- Training employees in safety standards and monitoring compliance
- Keeping up-to-date with OSHA regulations