Earlier this week, I read a blog post about a contractor facing criminal charges for gross violations of safety regulations leading to the death of an employee in a trench.
Also recently, another blog post describes large Occupational Safety and Health Administration fines levied against Nebraska businesses for serious OSHA violations relating to a cave-in fatality in Alliance, Nebraska.
Several years ago, I represented a young mother who lost her husband in a cave-in that took four lives in Nebraska and resulted in an initial penalty of more than $200,000 for multiple violation of OSHA.
On the way to work the other day, I heard part of an NET series on the radio that talked about the many safety risks in meatpacking plants. What many people don’t know, and that the NET link points out, is that fines are related to the safety problems and violations found, not necessarily related to how badly someone was injured or whether a worker died in the incident that prompted OSHA’s inspection.
“The agency assesses fines based on violations to the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, not based on injuries or fatalities those violations actually cause, (Herb Gibson, OSHA area director for the Denver office) says. A worker death, and possibly a serious worker injury, will spur OSHA into action to conduct an inspection, but a worker death doesn’t necessarily influence the final fine the company pays, even if one of the violations plays a role.
“‘In my personal opinion, the fines could be modified for fatal cases but that’s not what the law — it doesn’t have a separate penalty for a fatality,’ Gibson says. ‘And that would require legislation to change that particular provision.’”
As a representative of injured workers, I have seen hundreds, if not thousands, of work injuries or deaths caused by gross disregard of safety codes and regulations by employers. Trench deaths are an example of such situations. They are highly preventable if OSHA regulations are honored.
Yet, I am unaware of a Nebraska prosecutor filing criminal charges, even though we have statutes supporting such charges.
In Nebraska, one definition of manslaughter states: “A person commits manslaughter if he … causes the death of another unintentionally while in the commission of an unlawful act.”
Violating safety codes or OSHA violations are unlawful acts. Causing human beings to work in trenches that do not follow OSHA is an unlawful act. Why not make examples of businesses that violate safety laws? Perhaps then more employers would treat safety in the workplace with more diligence and respect for workers and their families.