Search form

Feds Launch Initiative to Toughen Penalties for Worker Safety Violations

  • January 7, 2016

In a new enforcement effort involving the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Mine Safety and Health Administration, the federal government is launching an initiative aimed at putting more bite into penalties for alleged worker safety violations.

In a December announcement, the U.S. Department of Justice said it had developed a plan with the Department of Labor to prosecute alleged worker endangerment violations more frequently and effectively by having DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices across the country work with OSHA, MSHA, and DOL’s Wage and Hour Division, transferring responsibility for criminal prosecutions for worker safety to ENRD from DOJ’s Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.

Since most worker safety violations are misdemeanors punishable by light fines and short prison terms (as opposed to environmental crimes where penalties are much stiffer), the idea is to consolidate authorities to pursue alleged worker safety violations under ENRD’s Environmental Crimes Section. In a memorandum to all 93 U.S. Attorneys nationwide, Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates urged federal prosecutors to work with the Environmental Crimes Section on worker safety violations. DOJ said environmental offenses often occur in conjunction with worker safety crimes.

Yates told prosecutors they can make “enforcement meaningful” by charging other serious offenses that often occur in association with OSHA violations, including making false statements, obstruction of justice, witness tampering, conspiracy, and environmental and endangerment crimes. “With penalties ranging from 5 to 20 years’ incarceration, plus significant fines, these felony provisions provide additional important tools to deter and punish workplace safety crimes,” she wrote.

On the other hand, OSHA criminal violations generally are misdemeanors, each of which is currently punishable by a fine of no more than $10,000, imprisonment for no more than six months, or both, for a first occurrence. These cases usually require fatalities that arise as a result of OSHA violations that are classified as “willful.” There were only three criminal prosecutions under the OSHA statute in 2013. State authorities sometimes prosecute employee safety-related matters under generally applicable state criminal laws.

OSHA Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels welcomed the plan. “More frequent and effective prosecution of these crimes will send a strong message to those employers who fail to provide a safe workplace for their employees. We look forward to working with the Environment and Natural Resources Division to enforce these life-saving rules when employers violate workplace safety, workers’ health and environmental regulations.”

In addition to the Occupational Safety and Health Act and the Mine Act, other statutes included in the plan are the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act and the Atomic Energy Act. The DOJ also stated in its announcement that ENRD has been increasing its efforts to pursue civil cases that involve worker safety violations under statutes such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the Toxic Substances Control Act.

Employers should work with counsel to develop strategies for avoiding situations that could lead to charges for alleged criminal prosecution over worker safety and environmental issues.

©2016 Jackson Lewis P.C. This material is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice nor does it create a client-lawyer relationship between Jackson Lewis and any recipient. Recipients should consult with counsel before taking any actions based on the information contained within this material. This material may be considered attorney advertising in some jurisdictions. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

Reproduction of this material in whole or in part is prohibited without the express prior written consent of Jackson Lewis P.C., a law firm that built its reputation on providing workplace law representation to management. Founded in 1958, the firm has grown to more than 900 attorneys in major cities nationwide serving clients across a wide range of practices and industries including government relations, healthcare and sports law. More information about Jackson Lewis can be found at www.jacksonlewis.com.

See AllRelated Articles You May Like

September 26, 2019

An Aging Construction Workforce: Recognition and Response

September 26, 2019

The number of workers aged 55 and over is increasing, while the number of workers under the age of 25 is decreasing, according to the 2018 Current Population Survey. The construction industry may feel this more acutely than other industries, as workers in the construction industry tend to be older than those in other industries, the... Read More

August 21, 2019

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Agency Proposes Changes to Hours of Service Rules for Truck Drivers

August 21, 2019

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has published a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on changes to the hours of service (HOS) rules. Background First adopted in 1937, FMCSA’s HOS rules set the permitted operating hours of commercial drivers. FMCSA mandated use of... Read More

June 25, 2019

The Aging Construction Industry: Keeping Skilled Employees Longer

June 25, 2019

Workers in the construction industry tend to be older than those in other industries, according to the National Association of Home Builders. The median age of construction workers is 42 years old, a year older than the median in the national labor force. Further, the median age of workers in the industry is 44-45 years old in several U.... Read More

Related Practices