Rule changes calling for immediate fines for state safety inspection violations have Pontotoc County commissioners concerned about the potential financial impact on already cash-strapped county agencies.
Changes to the way the Oklahoma Occupational Health and Safety Standards Act will be enforced by state inspectors beginning Sept. 1 call for the elimination of warnings issued to public-sector employers and municipal subdivisions of the state — cities, counties and their agencies and volunteer fire departments. Under the new rules, no warnings will be issued to local government agencies for violations observed during inspections. Those agencies will be afforded no opportunity to correct the violation before being fined by state inspectors.
Documents provided by the Oklahoma Department of Labor indicate the changes are being made to comply with Senate Bill 1198 — a bill that, effective Nov. 1, 2016, changed a section of state law to require state safety inspectors to issue citations immediately upon determining a violation of state health and safety laws has occurred.
In Pontotoc County, commissioners are concerned the new rules will adversely impact agencies and subdivisions of county government already struggling amid deficits and funding cuts to their operations. Commissioners expressed significant concern over the impact the new rules may have on volunteer fire departments, which are subject to inspection under the law.
District 3 Commissioner Justin Roberts questioned the need for the changes, saying he believes the move is intended to generate revenue for the state at the expense of local governments.
“It’s a revenue generator,” Roberts said. “And it amounts to double taxing the taxpayers. You pay your (income tax), which funds DOL, and then they write these citations to smaller governments, which are also going to have to be paid with your (sales and property) tax money.”
For now, commissioners have instructed all elected officials and volunteer fire department officials to make certain their facilities are violation free.