Workplace fatalities and injuries can devastate the lives of an employee and his family. Unfortunately, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is doing little to prevent these types of incidents from occurring. OSHA is understaffed and rarely performs inspections of worksites. Further, even when safety violations are identified, fines are usually much too low to be a deterrent.
Recognizing the problem, OSHA is now making an effort to do something to help workers. According to Safety News Alert, OSHA will be trying to facilitate more criminal prosecutions in the future in situations where employer wrongdoing results in the death of workers.
When a worker is killed on the job, his or her dependents should be entitled to death benefits through workers’ compensation. An workers’ compensation lawyer in Asheville, NC can help family members of those killed on-the-job as well as injured workers to get the benefits and compensation that the law provides.
More Criminal Prosecutions Could Reduce Safety Violations
The AFL-CIO’s report Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect made clear just how ineffective OSHA is at actually deterring employers from breaking safety rules or allowing unsafe conditions.
According to the report, a serious violation of OSHA rules results in an average fine of just $2,156. Even an employer who was fined more than average would face a maximum penalty of just $7,000 for a serious violation of workplace safety rules.
If an employer willfully violates the rules, he might face an average fine of $35,503. However, it is likely that he’d be fined much less than this since a few very high fines have driven up the overall average. Even in cases where workers have been killed on-the-job because of safety violations, the median penalty was just $5,175- much lower than the $35,503.
Since fines are not going to deter North Carolina employers from allowing workplace hazards to persist, fear of criminal prosecution may be the only motivating factor forcing employers to do the right thing. Unfortunately, criminal prosecutions are currently so rare that they are likely to be even less effective than fines.
In fact, there have been just 84 criminal prosecutions since 1970 even though there have been more than 390,000 workplace fatalities in the United States over the past several decades. The prosecutions ended up with violators serving a grand total of 89 months in jail. The chances of anyone actually facing criminal penalties, therefore, have been virtually non-existent.
OSHA now says it plans to increase its focus on criminal prosecutions and will be referring cases for criminal prosecution in situations where employers committed willful violations leading to fatal injuries as well as in situations where a worker is killed after an employer lied to OSHA or falsified documents. North Carolina prosecutors will need to act on the information that OSHA provides to them and pursue prosecutions so careless employers will be put behind bars if employees die due to intentional safety breaches.
If you have suffered a work accident in North Carolina, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.
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Noisy Worksites Make for More Accidents, April 20, 2014, Asheville Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog