There are more than 3.7 million employees working within the state of Georgia. These workers are supposed to be protected by the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which sets minimum rules for worker safety. Labor inspectors have the job of visiting workplaces in the state and making sure that there are no violations that could result in worker injury or death.
Unfortunately, according to an AFL-CIO report called Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect, there are just 50 OSHA inspectors in the state despite the fact that there should be 379 inspectors to meet minimum benchmarks. With so few inspectors, the risk of an OSHA investigator showing up may not be enough to deter employers from allowing OSHA violations to occur on worksites.
More criminal prosecutions could make a difference by acting as an effective deterrent for rule violators, and Safety News Alert indicates that OSHA is making a major effort to step up prosecutions. Unfortunately, unless or until this effort pans out, there is simply not enough being done to protect workers from death on the job. If a death does occur, the family of the victim should consult with an Atlanta workers' comp lawyer right away for help.
Could Increasing Criminal Penalties Help Improve Worker Safety?
In its report, the AFL-CIO highlights the myriad shortcomings within the existing OSHA penalty system. In addition to an insufficient number of inspectors, penalties are simply too low to make a real difference in forcing compliance with safety rules. For example:
- A serious OSHA violation leads to an average fine of just $2,156.
- The maximum penalty for a serious violation of workplace safety rules is only $7,000 under the OSH Act.
- Employers who willfully violate OSHA regulations are fined an average of $35,503. Most employers are not fined this much, as the average was skewed upward as a result of a limited number of high fines.
- The median penalty when a worker is killed due to an OSHA violation is $5,175.
Since these fines are too low to make a difference, employers can virtually act with impunity when it comes to failure to protect workers. Stepping up criminal prosecutions, however, could change all that.
Since 1970, only 84 criminal prosecutions have occurred even though more than 390,000 workers have lost their lives in the United States. When a violator was prosecuted, the average time spent in jail was 89 months.
Now, OSHA is making an effort to do better. As Safety News Alert reports, OSHA is going to refer cases to prosecutors when employers committed willful violations that led to fatalities. Prosecutors will also be notified if employers falsified documents or lied to OSHA. Hopefully, prosecutors in Atlanta will step up when OSHA forwards them information and will work to penalize employers responsible for fatalities on-the-job.
If you or a loved one was killed on-the-job, an Atlanta workers' compensation lawyer can represent you. Contact Van Sant Law, LLC today to schedule your free consultation.