Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Lautenberg Blasts OSHA

Citing OSHA's decision not to seek criminal investigations in the vast majority of willful citations (where the employer knowingly sends a worker into a dangerous situation), Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) called the agency's behavior "an astounding record of failure by the one federal agency charged with ensuring workplace safety."

Lautenberg promised to introduce legislation that "will require OSHA to provide within 60 days of the end of each month, a review of the number of deaths and injuries reported and any and all actions taken by OSHA to punish those companies which have placed these employees in danger."

The source of Lautenberg's anger was the recent New York Times Series, When Workers Die, which documented that during the last two decades, OSHA investigated over 1,200 cases where deaths were caused by "willful" safety violations of the employer, but did not seek prosecution in over 90% of those cases.

According to Occupational Hazards
An OSHA spokesperson said the agency is aware of Lautenberg's letter, as it is posted on his Web site, but OSHA has not officially received the letter and therefore had no comment on it at press time.
Senator Jon Corzine, also of New Jersey, has introduced legislation that would make it a felony and increase penalties when workers are killed because of willful safety violations. As the New York Times discussed, it is currently only a misdemeanor to willfully kill someone in the workplace, making federal prosecutors reluctant to go through all the work of prosecuting employers for what would be, at most, a six-month sentence.