Employers are supposed to follow basic safety rules in order to ensure the risk of an employee getting hurt or sick is minimized. Unfortunately, this does not always occur. In fact, there are many situations where regulations passed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are either willfully or unintentionally violated.
OSHA can issue fines and citations, but these are often too low to act as a deterrent and OSHA typically does not find out about problems and issue fines until after a worker has already gotten hurt. Criminal prosecution is also possible when willful violations happen, but a Boston workers’ compensation lawyer knows it is rare for prosecutors to file criminal charges.
In one case, however, criminal charges are actually being brought against a CEO. If the CEO is convicted, this case could serve as an important warning to those who run companies about the importance of making sure they follow worker safety laws
CEO Faces Criminal Prosecution
According to Safety News Alert, prosecutors are taking criminal action against the CEO of a West Virginia mining company. The criminal charges arise out of the deaths of 29 mine workers who were killed in the Upper Big Branch mine disaster.
The disaster happened when coal dust and methane ignited, resulting in a massive blaze that fatally engulfed workers.
The CEO had been made aware of safety violations related to a failure to follow the rules for ventilating coal dust and methane gas. This was one of hundreds of safety violations present at the mine and about which the CEO knew but did not fix.
The criminal allegations assert the CEO chose not to resolve any of the myriad violations of worker safety protections because he was trying to keep expenses down. In other words: Profits before people.
He was indicted on four different counts by a federal grand jury, as the allegations not only relate to willfully ignoring safety laws and endangering miners. The CEO is also accused of cutting safety staff and of intentionally deceiving federal inspectors who were in charge of overseeing the safety of the mine.
The potential penalties for conviction if the CEO is found guilty of all criminal charges could total 31 years of incarceration. The CEO is 64, meaning he could end up spending the rest of his life in prison if he is found guilty. Two of the other former managers at the coal mine have also been charged with crimes, but they entered plea deals so their case will not go to trial.
Prosecutions like this are very rare, especially against CEOs. On-sight managers are sometimes prosecuted, but it is essential for prosecutors to prove the defendant is an operator of the mine in charge of day-to-day decisions and supervision of workers. In this case, the CEO was very hands-on, so conviction may be possible.
If he is convicted, other company leaders may view this as a wake-up call to prioritize worker safety.
If you are injured in an accident in Massachusetts, call the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman for a free and confidential appointment — 1-888-367-2900.
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Boston Worker Injured in Ladder Fall, October 10, 2014, Boston Workers’ Compensation Lawyers Blog