Recently, we wrote about an increase in OSHA penalties for workplace safety violations. The increase is aimed at ensuring companies who violate workplace safety rules actually face real penalties. OSHA penalties still remain relatively low, however, despite a dramatic increase of almost 80 percent that was necessary because it had been so long since penalties rose. While the increase is good news, rising fines alone is not enough to generate meaningful reform in the field of worker safety. Too often, it is the companies that pay the fine but individuals who make decisions that endanger workers. Prosecution of these individuals could be the key to preventing serious injuries and fatalities that occur on-the-job.
While criminal prosecutions can arise for willful violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), as well as for gross negligence that causes serious injuries or death, prosecutions are relatively rare. Efforts have been made over the past decade to step up the number of prosecutions, and recently Safety News Alert reported the federal government will be moving forward with plans aimed at ensuring even more prosecutions occur.
An increase in criminal charges when workers are badly hurt or killed could have a meaningful impact on frightening employers enough to actually take action. Injured employees, however, will still need to know their rights, as the claim of an employee for work injury benefits is separate and distinct from any criminal charges which may be brought. An Atlanta workers’ comp lawyer can provide assistance to employees who wish to make a claim to get medical bills covered and to receive other benefits provided by Georgia law.
More Prosecutions Could Mean Fewer Atlanta Work Accidents
In 2013, there were only three criminal cases in which prosecution was based on violations of OSHA that harmed workers. In 2014, this number increased to 27- but 27 is still a very low number considering that there are thousands of workers injured and killed on-the-job each year.
The Worker Endangerment Initiative has been in effect since 2005, and is aimed at increasing criminal prosecutions. While it has at least resulted in some charges being filed, more needs to be done. The federal government may finally be taking action now, announcing an expansion of the Worker Endangerment Initiative that should lead to more prosecutions in the upcoming year.
As part of the changes that will be taken place, responsibility for action when criminal violations of worker safety laws occur has been transferred from the Fraud Section to the Environmental Crimes Section (ECS). ECS may be better equipped to support prosecutors in moving forward with criminal charges.
Prosecutors are also being encouraged to press charges for crimes that usually go hand-in-hand with OSHA violations. Examples include obstruction of justice, making false claims, and making material false statements. Many crimes that are related to OSHA violations could result in very long maximum terms of imprisonment. One owner of a roofing company in 2015, for example, pled guilty to six criminal counts in connection with the death of a roofer. The company owner faced 25 years imprisonment.
Prison is a strong deterrent, and company owners may start to take more notice of worker safety if the government actually moves forward with its efforts to facilitate an increase in prosecutions. Since injuries will continue to occur, however, workers must ensure they always have an understanding of their rights and that they get appropriate legal help after accidents happen.
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.