A workplace fatality triggers an investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which can result in the company facing OSHA fines. These fines, unfortunately, may not be a sufficient deterrent. Some employers know they are breaking OSHA rules and still persist in creating a dangerous working environment for employees on-the-job. One of the most effective ways to prevent employers from accepting a high-risk workplace is to hold employers and managers criminally accountable for worker deaths.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration can refer cases to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) so the DOJ can press federal charges against willful violators and against employers who are grossly negligent. While OSHA has the ability to spur criminal investigations, however, Business Insurance reports the agency is not really doing so. Instead, it is leaving most prosecutions to local authorities. While this can work sometimes, it can also lead to inconsistent enforcement and can adversely impact worker safety.
Any criminal actions taken against an employer are separate from the claims an injured worker can file for benefits. Workers hurt on-the-job deserve to understand their rights and should seek legal assistance from a qualified professional to help them make their case. Call Parsons & Associates, PC to speak with an Atlanta workers’ compensation lawyer for help in getting the money and benefits you deserve if your employer has caused you harm.
OSHA is Leaving Criminal Cases Up to State Prosecutors After Atlanta Workplace Deaths
In 2013, OSHA only referred a total of three cases to the DOJ for the DOJ to follow up with federal criminal charges. Although 2014 data on referrals isn’t published for the public yet, most speculators believe the number of referrals in 2014 is going to be about the same as during the prior year. In the past, OSHA made significantly more than three referrals for criminal prosecutions, although the agency has never done as much as it could have in terms of making sure employers were prosecuted for willfully creating a dangerous work environment.
OSHA may be acting deliberately to push off responsibility for prosecutions onto local, rather than federal, authorities. With a limited budget and understaffing problems, OSHA needs to find the most efficient allocation of its resources. Leaving criminal cases up to local prosecutors frees up agency resources that can go to other things.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) also does not preclude prosecutors from pressing charges for negligent homicide or manslaughter on the state level. While most federal cases brought based on OSHA violations are misdemeanors, local prosecutors can being felony charges under appropriate circumstances. This can result in much harsher penalties imposed on employers for violating rules and regulation when such violations result in an employee death. The more stringent the penalties imposed on employers, the greater the deterrent effect and the more likely it is other companies and managers will think twice about allowing unsafe conditions on worksites.
Still, the problem is that OSHA is hoping prosecutors pick up the slack in fulfilling some of the agency’s functions. Prosecutors may not have the resources or inclination to step in and prosecute cases after worker deaths, which means there could be inconsistent enforcement nationwide and overall worker safety could decline. OSHA needs to make sure it is doing its job in enforcing the Occupational Safety and Health Act and in holding employers and managers accountable for their criminal actions.
Parsons & Associates, P.C. is an Atlanta workers’ compensation law firm serving Atlanta, Savannah, and surrounding areas throughout Fulton County. Contact Parsons & Associates, P.C. today at 770-422-9000 or contact us online if you have been injured at work.