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December 22, 2003


Workplace deaths and OSHA inaction

Very long but worthwhile piece in the NY Times about deaths in the workplace due to companies' willful failure to make working conditions safe. OSHA, who would theoretically be responsible for investigating these cases and referring them to prosecutors, seems to have a "culture of reluctance" when it comes to prosecution, preferring instead to just investigate and fine the companies responsible for the deaths of their employees. Only 7% of cases of workplace death investigated by OSHA since 1982 have resulted in prosecution. OSHA's reluctance seems to stem from fear that they will fail to convict companies in key cases, and the whole agency will lose its credibility. However, most cases never ever get sent to a prosecutor at all, so the legal system doesn't get a chance to go after corporate criminals. Federal prosecutors say they would be happy to take more workplace death cases, even though -- get this -- if an employer willfully violates a safety law, and a worker dies as a result, the crime is only a misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of 6 months. Seems that protecting its own reputation, and keeping companies clear of criminal charges is OSHA's top priority. -amy

At least the familes of workplace victims can subpoena OSHA's records and pursue civil cases. Still, OSHA shouldn't be so gun shy. Maybe they should start watching Law & Order for motivation and inspiration: Jack McCoy once successfully prosecuted an HMO's CEO for manslaughter because his company failed to give a patient a psychiatric referral and the patient ended up killing somebody on the subway. -adm

categories: Business
posted by amy at 10:25 AM | #


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