The Occupational Safety and Health Administration doesn't have unlimited resources, so it's no surprise that it has to be very particular about the companies it pursues for violations. The federal safety agency has fewer than 1,850 inspectors around the United States who have to inspect and monitor a shocking 8 million workplaces; it's impossible to check each one.
Because of this, OSHA has a severe violator list. Companies who consistently fail to keep employees safe can be placed on this list and face heavy fines and penalties. Interestingly, even though this program exists, only around one out of 200 employers who have had an on-the-job fatality are on the list as of 2015.
On the whole, being a part of the Severe Violator Enforcement Program is bad for business. It means OSHA focuses on you more, and workplaces with safety hazards can be caught again and again for failing to fix them. It's beneficial for employees, who won't be at risk as much in the safer environment, but it can mean thousands of dollars in fines and penalties for the employer.
The SVEP is essentially a form of public shaming, pointing out potentially dangerous employers to potential employees before they ever apply for the job. Being on the list means extra inspections and even forcing the company to hire safety personnel, though. In the end, it can mean that the company is safer than many others once it leaves the SVEP.
As an employee, knowing that your employer is encouraging a safe work environment is important. You can report violations to OSHA and have a right to seek workers' compensation if you're injured on the job.
Source: IowaWatch.org, "OSHA’s Wall of Shame: With Limited Staff, Agency Targets ‘Severe Violators’," Paul Feldman and Stuart Silverstein, Dec. 23, 2016