On January 26, 2023, OSHA revealed to the public two enforcement memoranda that it had issued to its field offices and all of the State OSH Plans that will substantially sharpen OSHA’s enforcement teeth and increase the pain OSHA can inflict on employers across the country. Specifically, OSHA dramatically expanded the circumstances when it can issue “instance-by-instance” citations to employers, and also discouraged the grouping of similar citations under a single penalty.
Instance-by-Instance (IBI), or per-instance enforcement is one of OSHA’s most powerful tools to ratchet up civil penalties. It is essentially a multiplier for OSHA citations based on a “unit-of-violation” set by OSHA standards that require individualized duties; i.e., train each employee, guard each machine, require a hard hat for each employee, etc. As a result, rather than a single citation with a single penalty for an employers’ failure to ensure that all employees wear a hard hat at a construction site, per-instance enforcement allows OSHA to instead issue ten citations with ten separate penalties for each of the ten employees observed without a hard hat.
Historical Per-Instance Enforcement
OSHA’s IBI enforcement policy was first memorialized in 1990 in an enforcement directive called “Handling of Cases to be Proposed for Violation-By-Violation Penalties.” This policy came to be known as OSHA’s Egregious Enforcement Policy because OSHA’s policy was to use it only in circumstances involving conduct found by OSHA to be worse than just willful. Specifically, under this long-standing willful-plus standard, OSHA issued per-instance citations when violations were found both to be willful and also to meet one of the following criteria: Continue reading