Wednesday, March 09, 2005

OSHA To Beef Up Criminal Prosecutions

We'll see....

William Sellers IV, a prosecutor at the Department of Justice who has led the U.S. criminal enforcement effort of OSHA rules for many years, and Solicitor of Labor Howard Radzely have promised to take measures to beef up criminal prosecutions of workplace safety violators.

Sellers, in a presentation to American Bar Association's Occupational Safety and Health Law Committee midwinter meeting promised to focus on a number of new areas, according to an article in Occupational Hazards:
  • OSHA is expanding cooperation with EPA criminal enforcement. OSHA inspectors are being trained to recognize violations of EPA rules for referral to that agency. As we've seen in the recent W.R. Grace asbestos indictments, EPA fines can be hundreds of times higher, and jail sentences easier than under the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

  • OSHA is now discussing with the Department of Justice all cases involving willful violations of OSHA rules that lead to a fatality, to determine how and whether to pursue criminal prosecution.

  • In order to facilitate criminal prosecution by the Justice Department, OSHA inspectors have received new training on how to conduct inspections that could lead to a criminal case.

  • The Sarbanes-Oxley act, passed in the wake of the Enron scandal, has also strengthened federal penalties for lying or misleading government officials with respect to safety investigations. Violation of the Sarbanes-Oxley act can bring up to 20 years in prison, while the OSH Act treats a violation as a misdemeanor.
This toughening of OSHA policy comes in the wake of a hard-hitting 2003 series by NY Times reporter David Barstow which showed that the agency failed to seek criminal prosecution against 93 percent of the companies whose willful violations of safety rules caused workers to die.