Recently, we wrote about increasing OSHA fines for workplace safety violations. The goal of higher fines is to make sure the fines actually act as a deterrent to discourage employers from allowing worker safety violations to persist. The fines, however, are paid by companies. Sometimes, individuals in charge of an organization still don’t do what they are supposed to and they face limited personal risks if they let workers down.
This could, however, be changing. While it has long been possible to bring criminal prosecution for willful failure to protect employees and for gross negligence that causes serious injuries or fatalities, prosecutions have been few and far between. These prosecutions are about to become more common. Safety News Alert has announced the federal government’s intention to step up prosecutions and bring more criminal charges when OSHA violations occur, particularly if there was a willful violation and a fatality occurred.
Criminal penalties can punish those who fail their workers, but employees injured on the job and surviving family members of workers killed at work will still need to make workers’ comp claims to get money and benefits to cover work injuries. An Atlanta work accident lawyer can provide legal assistance to those who need help getting money after an accident in their workplace.
More Criminal Prosecutions to Come for Atlanta Worker Safety Violations
For nearly a decade, there has been a focus on increasing criminal prosecutions through the Worker Endangerment Initiative. This initiative, which was first announced in 2005, is expanding, and some of the processes are changing. For example, responsibility for prosecuting workplace safety violation crimes has been transferred to the Environmental Crimes Section (ECS) from the Fraud Section. ECS may be better able to provide support for the U.S. Attorneys’ who can prosecute criminal cases.
Changes are necessary because there have been very few prosecutions. There were just three criminal cases brought in 2013. In 2014, trends had already begun to shift towards more prosecutions, with 27 criminal cases arising from work safety violations. This was the highest number of cases ever, and many of the cases resulted in defendants pleading guilty. For example, the owner of one roofing company who was prosecuted in 2015 pled guilty to six charges arising from a worker death and faces up to 25 years imprisonment. With new changes to the Initiative, hopefully there will be even more criminal prosecutions this year.
Prosecutors have also been encouraged to make enforcement of OSHA laws more meaningful by charging defendants with related crimes often associated with OSHA violations, such as obstruction of justice and making false statements. Potential penalties for some of these offenses could include maximum prison terms of 20 years.
There is strong support for imposing more criminal penalties after workplace safety violations, with 95 percent of respondents to a Safety News Alert survey indicating they would be in support of more criminal prosecutions. Hopefully, more prosecutions mean employees will be safer in the future as employers will have stronger incentives not to put workers at risk.
The Atlanta workplace accident lawyers at Sammons & Carpenter, P.C. can represent employees or their families after a workplace injury or death. Call today at (404) 814-8949 or contact us online to schedule your free consultation.