Our Boston workers’ compensation attorneys have been closely following the developments surrounding the introduction of the Protecting America’s Workers Act, would would provide a much-needed update to the Occupational Safety & Health Act of 1970.
The Center for Public Integrity, which has been thorough in its ongoing series on the gaps of workplace safety oversight and protections, reports that perhaps the most substantial part of this legislation is that it would increase the enforcement power of the Occupational Safety & Health Administration.
So for example, let’s say a company that is involved in a willful violation – that is, one in which its superiors knew or should have known the dangers – and that violation leads to a death. As it stands right now, the employer could face a misdemeanor charge that would result in a maximum six months in prison. In the state of Massachusetts, you would face more jail time for illegally betting on a horse than you would for violating a safety law that results in a worker’s death.
This federal bill, if passed, would change that.
Instead of a misdemeanor, this kind of violation would be a felony, which would be punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
The other thing this bill would do is increase civil penalties. That’s something that hasn’t been done in nearly 25 years. This is important because the fine schedule hasn’t kept pace with inflation.
A serious workplace safety violation, which is one that would most likely result in serious physical harm or death, is punishable by a civil fine of up to $7,000. What the Protecting America’s Workers Act would do would be to raise that to $12,000, which would essentially just put it in line with inflation costs.
Same thing for repeat or willful violations, which right now carry a maximum fine of $70,000. That amount would be bumped up to $120,000.
Employers would still have to correct workplace dangers uncovered by federal inspectors – even if they were in the process of formally contesting the citation. Right now, that negotiation process can take years, and that means the upper hand lies with the employer. OSHA is eager to keep workers safe and the employer is just trying to bargain down the liability. OSHA usually ends up settling for costs much lower than the initial fine, simply so that the employer will move ahead with addressing the hazard.
And finally, another major thing this bill would do would be to require companies to protect ALL workers on a work site, rather than solely those that are directly employed by the firm. Hopefully, this will help to address the issue that contractor injuries, some of the most common on job sites, aren’t actually recorded or logged by the primary company doing the work. In the end, neither the government nor the public gets a clear picture of whether these workplaces are safe because, half the time, incidents that happen on site aren’t reported because the injury involved a contract worker.
If you are injured on the job in Massachusetts, call the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your workers’ compensation claim– 1-888-367-2900.
Bill aims to strengthen OSHA workplace enforcement, March 28, 2013, By Chris Hamby, The Center for Public Integrity
More Blog Entries:
Low Wage Workers Deserve a Safe Work Environment, April 12, 2013, Boston Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog