Criminalizing Safety Failures

Recently we shared the results of the criminal case against Don Blankenship, former CEO of Massey Energy, read the post here. Following an explosion at The Upper Big Branch Mine where 29 employees were killed, Blankenship was tried and found guilty on criminal charges. The decision was heralded as a big deal because it was/is one of the first times criminal charges have extended to the top office of a company. Blankenship was ultimately found guilty of creating a culture that put profits over worker safety. It looks like this is the beginning of a renewed attitude towards enforcement of worker safety standards.

New Plans
Now the Departments of Justice and Labor have announced plans  to make prosecution of crimes that put worker’s health and safety at risk. The plan calls for OSHA, MSHA and the Wage and Hour Division to work with the Justice Department’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices to cooperatively investigate and prosecute violations that involve worker endangerment. According to Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates this is an effort “… to hold accountable those who unlawfully jeopardize workers’ health and safety.” Department of Labor Deputy Secretary Chris Lu said that the announcement shows a renewed commitment to protect worker health and safety by utilizing criminal prosecution as an enforcement tool.
he Departments have been working on these plans for the better part of two years to increase the effectiveness and frequency of criminal prosecution. In the latter half of December 2015, Deputy Attorney General Yates sent a memo to all 93 U.S. Attorneys urging federal prosecutors to pursue worker endangerment violations along with the Department of Labor. In the past these have mostly been misdemeanor violations with minor penalties. The memo encourages utilizing Title 18 and environmental offenses to increase deterrence through enhanced penalties. Criminal penalties under this new relationship increase from what had been financial burdens for the company to now include potential prison sentences for individuals.
“More frequent and effective prosecution of these crimes will send a strong message to those employers who fail to provide a safe workplace for their employees. “ This according to Assistant Secretary for OHS Dr. David Michaels. He goes on to share that the Department is ‘looking forward to enforcing the rules when employers violate workplace safety and health and environmental regulations.’
ow that the Federal Government has a plan to more rigorously pursue prosecution and increase penalties ;what plan do you have in place to protect the company and your employees? An effective Behavioral Based Safety Incentive Plan can help reduce incidents and recordable events. By giving workers more tools and incentives you can feel more confident that you, your company and your workers are less likely to face these enhanced efforts.