Government sets stricter standards for worker endangerment

By |  December 18, 2015

The Departments of Justice and Labor announced a plan to more effectively prosecute crimes that put the lives and health of workers at risk.

Under the new plan, the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices will work with the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and Wage and Hour Division (WHD) to investigate and prosecute worker endangerment violations.

“On an average day in America, 13 workers die on the job, thousands are injured and 150 succumb to diseases they obtained from exposure to carcinogens and other toxic and hazardous substances while they worked,” says Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates. “Given the troubling statistic on workplace deaths and injuries, the Department of Justice is redoubling its efforts to hold accountable those who unlawfully jeopardize workers’ health and safety.”

Starting last year, the Departments of Justice and Labor began meeting to explore a joint effort to increase the frequency and effectiveness of criminal prosecutions of worker endangerment violations. This resulted in a decision to consolidate the authorities to pursue worker safety statutes within the Department’s Environment and Natural Resource Division’s Environmental Crimes Section.

The worker safety statutes generally provide for only misdemeanor penalties, but prosecutors have now been encouraged to consider using environmental offenses, which often occur in conjunction with worker safety crimes, to enhance penalties and increase deterrence. Statutes included in this new plan are the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act and the Mine Safety and Health Act.

“Every worker has the right to come home safely,” says David Michaels, assistant secretary for OSHA. “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.”

Comments are closed