Feds Seek Stiffer Safety Penalties

Monday, January 4, 2016 @ 04:01 PM gHale

It is not enough to fine a company for poor workplace safety, because after all, that could end up considered a cost of doing business, but add in the potential for prosecution and that should bring a new wrinkle to ensuring safety.

And that is just what the Department of Labor (DoL) and the Department of Justice (DoJ) are starting up with a new initiative to prevent and deter crimes that jeopardize the lives and health of workers.

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The initiative strengthens the ability of the two departments to investigate and prosecute employers who fail to provide a safe workplace for their employees.

Deputy Secretary of Labor Chris Lu joined Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates in signing the agreement during a ceremony at the Dept. of Justice Dec. 17.

“On an average day in America, 13 workers die on the job, thousands are injured and 150 succumb to diseases they obtained from exposure to carcinogens and other toxic and hazardous substances while they worked,” Yates said. “Given the troubling statistics on workplace deaths and injuries, the Department of Justice is redoubling its efforts to hold accountable those who unlawfully jeopardize workers’ health and safety.”

“Safety and security in the workplace are a shared commitment,” Lu said. “Workplace injuries and illnesses cause an enormous amount of physical, financial and emotional hardship for workers and their families and underscore the urgent need for employers to provide a safe workplace for their employees. Today’s announcement demonstrates a renewed commitment by both the Department of Labor and the Department of Justice to utilize criminal prosecution as an enforcement tool to protect the health and safety of workers.”

The Memorandum of Understanding calls for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices to work with the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Mine Safety and Health Administration, and Wage and Hour Division to investigate and prosecute worker endangerment violations.

The worker safety statutes generally provide for only misdemeanor penalties, while the new initiative will encourage them to use the federal criminal and penal code and environmental offenses, which often occur in conjunction with worker safety crimes, to enhance penalties and increase deterrence.

Click here for more information on the new initiative.