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Cal/OSHA: Are Employers Getting Off The Hook?

Percentage of workplace safety violation fines that are reduced

When a worker suffers an accident on the job—loses a leg, finger, eye, dies—you can bet it will bring an inspection from California's Division of Occupational Safety and Health. Any breach of safety regulations at the accident site will prompt a citation for the employer that can reach well into five digits and, in rare cases, even six.

But getting a citation doesn't always mean having to pay the fine. Employers get several chances to dispute the charges through Cal/OSHA's own appeals process.

In some cases, that means getting an extension on the abatement date, which is the time by which the company must have fixed whatever resulted in its violation. In others, it means getting the penalty amount reduced or eliminated altogether.

As part of SoCal Connected's six-month investigation into Cal/OSHA, our producers and reporters looked at all the cases that came before an appeals judge between January and September 2009 and found that, more often than not, when a company appealed, it was rewarded with a penalty reduction.

The chart above represents the outcomes for 78 cases during that time that came before an administrative law judge serving on behalf of the appeals board.

The diagram below shows how a case moves through the appeals system.

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