The Federal Government has announced a plan to more aggressively prosecute worker safety violations by tying them to environmental crimes.
David Uhlmann, a Professor of Law at the University of Michigan and former head of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes unit cited such disasters as the Gulf Oil spill and the Upper Big Branch mine disaster as examples that a greater focus on worker safety is needed.
The Departments of Labor and Justice will work collaboratively to investigate and prosecute violations of workplace safety and environmental violations. Their goals are to increase penalties and increase deterrence by using the OSH Act, the Mine Safety and Health Act, and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act.
The problem is that most worker safety violations are misdemeanors, which are punishable only by light fines and short prison terms. These do little to serve as incentive for companies to improve working conditions. Under the new effort, prosecutors will go after companies that endanger worker safety with additional charges for 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.
Penalties for these felony-level crimes can range from 5 to 20 years plus significant fines, while OSHA criminal violations cap at $10,000 or six months in jail for a first offense.
They will also be working with the Environment and Natural Resources Division to pursue civil cases of worker safety violations under the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the Toxic Substances Control Act.
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