Monday, June 9, 2008

Occupational Safety Prosecution

A former Justice Department official -- now a law professor at Michigan -- urges Congress to amend occupational safety laws. David M. Uhlmann, The Working Wounded, N.Y. Times, May 27, 2008.

An employer insisted his employees clean out a cyanide tank with no protective gear. After a couple of hours in the tank, a 20-year-old man was neurologically damaged for life.

My colleagues and I were shocked to learn that an employer who breaks the nation’s worker-safety laws can be charged with a crime only if a worker dies. Even then, the crime is a lowly Class B misdemeanor, with a maximum sentence of six months in prison. (About 6,000 workers are killed on the job each year, many in cases where the deaths could have been prevented if their employers followed the law.) Employers who maim their workers face, at worst, a maximum civil penalty of $70,000 for each violation.
In this case, the Justice Department successfully prosecuted the employer for environmental crimes. Uhlmann believes that the occupational safety laws should be strengthened to cover this situation and to increase penalties when the employer's actions cause death.

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