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Labor Advocate Calls for Jail for Employers in Worker Death Cases

When a fatal accident occurs on a job site in Massachusetts, the Department of Industrial Accidents (DIA) will get involved and may conduct an investigation. In addition to the state regulatory agency, the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will also conduct a formal inquiry into why the death occurred, as this is a required function of the agency.

prison-1431133-mAt the end of their investigation, OSHA may determine the employer was in violation of safety regulations, and that was the reason for a worker’s death. In some cases, OSHA will make a finding that employer was aware of this exact kind of accident, and how likely it was to occur based upon past accidents involving the company. In some cases, we are talking about an accident at the same production facility or construction site, and, in other cases, we are dealing with accidents at other locations owned or operated by the same employer.

As our Boston workers’ compensation benefits attorneys have seen in the past, when OSHA determines a history of repeated safety violations, they may assess a large fine against employer. However, in most cases, these fine are the extent of the punishment for employer.

According to a recent news feature from Philly.com, one workers’ rights advocates feels employers are taking known risks with workers’ safety, and these risks are resulting in the deaths of employees, and the only thing that is happening is OSHA is fining the company, and the workers’ family is eligible to collect workers’ compensation death benefits. According to this labor advocate, this is isn’t good enough, and, as real deterrent, these employers should be sent to jail.

She says these accidents are “predictable and preventable,” and it’s “criminal,” even though authorities aren’t willing to treat it as such. Her organization has chosen to meet with officials from the United States Department of Labor and prosecutors and is trying to push them to file criminal charges against employers whose extreme disregard for workers’ safety results in the death of an employee. While there is not a mention of what actual crime would be charged, it is possible that a disregard for the safety of others that results in death could be considered involuntary manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide, such as in the case of a fatal DUI.

Under current laws, the worst that ever happens to these employers, according to the advocate, is six months in prison, and that rarely if ever actually occurs. In the vast majority of cases, the worst thing that happens is employer has a fine levied against them, and sometimes it is not even that high a fine for a large corporation. We have seen cases where, after three workers are killed, and the company is determined to have knowingly violated safety protocols, leading to the deaths, and it received a fine of less than $50,000. As this labor advocate says, many times the fines are around $7,000 or $8,000, and this is wholly unacceptable and in no way a valid deterrent when we are talking about a profitable company.

If you or someone you love has been injured in a Boston work accident, call for a free and confidential appointment at 1-888-367-2900.

Additional Resources:

An advocate of worker safety pushes employer liability, September 6, 2015, Philly.com, Jane M. Von Bergen

More Blog Entries:

Increased Fines for Employers Who Do Not Maintain Workers’ Compensation Coverage, July 22, 2014