In an agency memorandum obtained by Newport Communications, OMCHS Program Manager Julie Cirillo told the agency's field staff to start levying the heavier fines on April 26.
The new fines, and Cirillo's accompanying order that field staff increase the number of carrier safety reviews, are the first direct evidence of a new emphasis on enforcement at the safety agency.
Field staff have the authority to choose the level of a fine, based on the nature, circumstances and gravity of the offense, as well as prior offenses and ability to pay.
The purpose of the fines, Cirillo said in the memo, is "to induce carriers to comply with safety regulations by making it financially unacceptable to ignore them."
Under the new guidelines, the agency can charge a company up to $10,000 for each individual violation that caused or could lead to serious injury or death. Hazardous materials carriers that violate a 45-day out of service order also are liable to a $10,000 fine. The minimum fine for these violations is $3,000.
Fines for less serious violations begin at $750 and are capped at $3,000.
Recordkeeping violations are capped at $500 per offense - but an addition $500 can be applied for each day the violation continues, up to $5,000. A $5,000 penalty can be applied if the recordkeeping violation conceals a more serious violation. The minimum recordkeeping fine is $300.
Carrier employees are limited to a maximum of $2,500 for each violation. For carriers with gross annual revenues of $18.5 million or less, the fines can be lowered if the violations are not willful, or for other similar reasons.
The Cirillo memo also orders a 200% increase in the number of in-depth safety reviews. Now the agency is conducting about one and a half reviews per inspector per month. Cirillo said the agency's goal is to complete an average of four to five high quality reviews per inspector per month.