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South Carolina sues DOL over maximum OSHA fine requirements


South Carolina officials have filed another federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Labor over a requirement that the state’s maximum civil penalties in workplace safety citations match or exceed those of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The complaint, filed Tuesday in U.S. District in Columbia, challenges the requirement that the South Carolina State Plan increase its civil penalties to be in line with the federal civil penalties OSHA has increased annually since 2016 under the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 2015.

The state, one of 21 permitted to have state-level OSHA plans, previously sued over the same issue, but a judge dismissed the complaint, determining the court didn’t have jurisdiction.

South Carolina asserts in the latest lawsuit that the OSHA regulation requiring state plans to have civil penalty maximums identical to or greater than federal penalties is inconsistent with federal law. 

The “only purported justification” offered in the 2016 rule requiring state plans to adopt civil penalties identical to, or at least as great, as federal ones is the assertion that increased penalties will have a “greater deterrent effect,” the suit states.

“This simplistic and conclusory claim ignores the fact that diligent administration and enforcement by state plans can still result in ‘safe and healthful employment and places of employment’ as federal standards, as South Carolina workplaces have demonstrated since 2016,” the lawsuit states.

South Carolina contends that despite having civil penalties lower than federal fines, workplaces in the state have reported fewer workplace injuries and illnesses than the national average.