Monday, October 16, 2006

Mass Legislature: Criminal Convictions Needed For Companies That Kill Workers

Isn't it amazing how a few deaths in broad daylight in front of dozens of onlookers can stiffen legislators' spines about how best to convince employers to make their workplaces safe?

The prospect of criminal convictions and jail time send a powerful and necessary message to companies that might not be deterred by a fine....People should not have to choose between earning a living and preserving their health and well-being.
This was the opinion of a report issued by the Massachusetts Legislature's Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security following the announcement of a $119,000 fine against Bostonian Masonry, the company that employed two construction workers who were killed last when a scaffolding collapsed in downtown Boston in April. A pedestrian was also killed. OSHA issued one willful citation carrying a $70,000 fine, the maximum allowed under law. The willful citation was for the improper removal of the bracing.
The report says the state's law enforcement officials should be given a stronger hand to go after negligent contractors.

"Criminal prosecutions may be one of the only solutions that the commonwealth's attorney general and district attorneys have available to them to permit action against willful violations," the report said.
Construction industry executives weren't too sure of the report's conclusions:
Robert L. Petrucelli, president of Associated General Contractors of Massachusetts, a trade association representing the state's commercial construction industry, said the group is studying the report.

"Certainly that's a huge potential impact on the construction industry and we have to look at the thought process behind that recommendation," he said referring to the call for criminal penalties.

The group is researching what penalties currently exist for wanton or reckless behavior on the part of companies and neglect on the part of workers.
The Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health issued the following statement following the OSHA citation:
The OSHA investigation in late September confirmed what most of us anticipated: the tragedy that took the lives of Robert Beane, Romildo Silva and Michael Ty, was preventable had the employers instituted basic, well-known safety measures.

To honor the memory of three men, we can no longer tolerate the claim that a workplace death was a “freak accident” when a 20,000 pound scaffold with no supports, collapses and crashes down 30 stories.

We can no longer call worker deaths a shock when at least one construction worker in Massachusetts dies every single month.

The state can no longer throw its hands up after a worker death and say its OSHA’s responsibility.

Like a science experiment, we know that if all conditions remain the same, we can predict the results - that employers will continue to ignore safety precautions and workers will die.

It’s time for the state to step up to the plate and not allow employers to put profit over safety.

Related Stories