Many workplace safety violations are never reported or discovered, and employers face no penalties for them at all. This is because Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is understaffed and inspections of worksites are rare.
Even when there is a problem and a worker gets hurt or killed, OSHA fines are generally relatively low, so employers may not find the fines a strong incentive to change their ways and follow best practices for safety. While criminal prosecution could be a strong deterrent, prosecutions are very rare and- as one recent case shows- the laws may not impose penalties commensurate with the consequences of an employer’s actions.
Because there is so little incentive to actually force employers to make worksites safe, injuries and fatalities happen far too often. If you or someone you love experiences an Atlanta workplace injury or fatality, you need to understand your right and pursue a benefits claim. An attorney can help.
Are Criminal Penalties Strong Enough to Prevent Atlanta Workplace Safety Issues?
The case of the CEO of Massey Coal is a clear illustration of why criminal laws may not be strong enough when it comes to employers who knowingly violate safety rules. Safety News Alert reports the CEO was an active micromanager who demanded progress reports twice an hour and who oversaw most of the day-to-day details of coal mining operations. The CEO put pressure on managers to perform, often cutting corners to achieve more productivity.
There was a long history of safety violations at the company’s mines as a result. Unfortunately, the problems were not corrected. The problems, including flammable gases and coal dust in the air, tragically resulted in an explosion which killed 29 miners.
The explosion led to the prosecution of the CEO, which is very rare as almost no executives are prosecuted for workplace safety violations. The CEO is the highest profile executive ever to be tried in connection with coal miners deaths. He was charged with multiple crimes, with total penalties which could add up to 30 years imprisonment– a life sentence for the older man.
He was convicted of just one count: a misdemeanor charge of conspiring to violate mining safety regulations. He was given the maximum penalty, which was just a year imprisonment and a fine of $250,000 as well as an additional year of probation. The crimes he had been charged with that carried longer penalties, which he was not convicted for, were financial crimes like securities fraud and filing false claims. In other words, the violation of the safety rules, which directly led to the death of 29 people, only resulted in a misdemeanor charge.
Many safety advocates believe there need to be stronger laws in place so executives in situations like this one do not get away with relatively light sentences when they encourage or cause safety violations which result in worker deaths.
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.