DOL & DOJ agreement: 'New world of worker safety'

OSHA Up to Date | March 2016

A recent agreement between the Departments of Labor and Justice will launch a “new world of worker safety” by holding managers and supervisors criminally accountable for violations of the law, agency officials said Dec. 17.

The two departments signed a memorandum of understanding that pools their resources toward the prosecution of individuals who willfully disregard labor and environmental statutes, according to John Cruden, assistant attorney general for DOJ’s Environmentand Natural Resources Division, who spoke during a press conference moments after the memo was signed.

For the past several years, OSHA and DOJ have worked with each other on certain cases, but the new agreement formalizes that relationship.

Criminal prosecutions of OSHA law violations are rare, as the maximum penalty is only six months and many U.S. attorneys are too overburdened to take those cases on, said Deborah Harris, DOJ’sEnvironmental Crimes Section chief.

Because of this and the assumption that many violators of workplace safety rules also violate environmental standards, criminal prosecutions under the Occupational Safety and Health Act willbe moved under the ECS portfolio so related cases could be pursued together.

This cooperation could lead to hefty fines and prison terms for employers and individuals convicted of violating a number of related laws. For example, a roofing contractor recently pleaded guilty toviolating an OSHA law, lying to inspectors and attempting to cover up his crime; he could be sentenced to up to 25 years in prison.

“Strong criminal sanctions are a powerful tool to ensure employers comply with the law and protectthe lives, limbs and lungs of our nation’s workers,” OSHA administrator David Michaels told reporters at the press conference.

Harris said prosecutions would be open to “the ones making the decisions that lead to the deaths of others,” which could include people in the corporate office, as well as managers and supervisors.