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Public Agencies Don’t Pay Workplace Safety Fines in New York

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This blog and other sources frequently report on fines levied against businesses for workplace safety violations. What gets less attention is the fact that many of those fines are never paid – if the business is a New York State government agency.

It turns out that governmental entities were fined $3.3 million by the state Department of Labor for workplace safety violations between January 2008 and June of 2013, However, only $2.8 million was actually paid.

A Rochester, New York, newspaper filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the data. Of the 41 state and local agencies that did not pay their fines, 24 were in the New York City area.

While the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) is responsible for enforcing workplace safety at private companies, the state Department of Labor monitors worker safety in public organizations such as fire departments, town governments, highway departments, schools and law enforcement agencies.

Unlike OSHA, the Public Employees Safety and Health Bureau at the New York State Department of Labor seldom fines public agencies that fail to comply with laws regulating workplace safety. However, fines are levied for especially serious violations.

But even these fines are sometimes not paid. It turns out that public employers such as the state and, New York counties, cities and towns often just ignore the fines. And many of those that are paid are collected only after the case goes to the Attorney General.