April 6, 2023 / Roger Marks

Preventing Repeat OSHA Violations for Multi-Location Employers

Sponsored by Lion Technology Inc.

OSHA issued a news release in January to publicize a string of new enforcement actions aimed at a retail chain that has allegedly exposed workers to unsafe conditions, repeatedly, at many separate stores across the United States. This employer has been dealt about $15 million in civil penalties over a six-year period, during which time their stores hosted at least 180 separate health and safety inspections. Now, the retailer is facing increased public scrutiny, thanks in part to a steady stream of agency press about alleged violations at its stores.

Continued targeting of this retailer for inspections, and the accumulation of civil penalties for repeat violations, illustrates an important point about OSHA's approach to compliance and enforcement—especially for safety professionals who are responsible for more than one location, and for employers who operate more than one.

Lesson for Multi-Site Employers

When OSHA repeatedly "names and shames" the same employer, it's no accident or coincidence. Employers who operate multiple workplaces should know: when OSHA cites a multi-site employer for a workplace health or safety violation, the agency expects the employer to correct that violation at all locations where they operate.

OSHA commonly inspects nearby, similar, or shared-management facilities after finding violations at one site. When OSHA uncovers identical or similar violations at multiple locations operated by the same employer, they may not treat each violation as independent. They may instead cite the employer for a "repeat violation." This is true whether the parent company operates all locations directly or those locations run as independent franchises.

In light of recent OSHA policy changes like its expansion of the Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP) and a more aggressive "instance-by-instance" citation policy that can significantly boost OSHA penalty amounts, avoiding repeat violations may be more important than ever in 2023.

Communication and Compliance

All multi-location employers should take a note from this retailer's workplace safety woes: communication between sites and locations is vital to compliance. Safety leaders at different locations must communicate regularly and openly and collaborate on regulatory compliance efforts. This is especially true if an OSHA officer has already paid one location a visit.

If employees are making a common error that has or could result in a citation, what's the procedure for communicating that to other locations? In retail, blocked exit routes are among the most frequently cited violations. Yet despite dozens of similar citations, this retail chain continues to be cited for this same common error again and again.

Maybe it's more than just a communication breakdown that caused a nationwide retail chain to suffer about thirty safety inspections per year since 2017. Still, how could the story be different if, years ago, every store manager in the U.S. received an urgent memo listing specific violations to look out for and correct? We don't know if that memo was sent, or if it would have made any difference. But it could make a difference for the next employer on OSHA's radar.

Don't Be OSHA's Next Example

OSHA uses citations, monetary penalties, and public callouts of employers to deter others from violating or disregarding workplace safety regulations. The same enforcement policies and strategies OSHA has been using to repeatedly cite a large retailer for years on end can just as easily be used to make an example of any employer.

By keeping open lines of communication between multiple locations, safety and health professionals can help make sure that when one facility learns a lesson about safety, so does everybody else.


Lion Technology Inc.: "OSHA Expands Penalty Policy for First Time Since 1990" (January 2023).

Lion Technology Inc.: "OSHA Expands Severe Violator Enforcement Program" (September 2022).

Roger Marks

Roger Marks writes about workplace health and safety, hazardous materials, and environmental issues for Lion News, a weekly e-newsletter from leaders in regulatory compliance training at Lion Technology Inc.


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