ACS: OSHA Limitations Undermine Worker Safety

The American Constitution Society for Law and Policy has released a white paper calling for stronger criminal penalties for those violating OSHA regulations. Author David M. Uhlmann, a former chief of the Environmental Crimes Section of the U.S. Department of Justice and now the Jeffrey F. Liss Professor from Practice and director of the Environmental Law and Policy Program at the University of Michigan Law School, says in the paper that with nearly 6,000 workers killed on the job annually, "the criminal provisions of our worker safety laws are so weak that they do little to protect America’s workers," and that OSHA's limitations actually undermine worker safety.

Uhlmann writes that “the criminal provisions of the OSH Act should be strengthened to reflect the Act’s emphasis on public health and safety, to provide the credible criminal deterrent that is needed to ensure greater compliance with worker safety laws, and to provide consistency with other federal regulatory crimes.” He sets forth a plan to modernize the 30-year old law, including a call to devote more resources to investigating and prosecuting crimes.

According to Uhlmann, because violations of OSHA constitute misdemeanor offenses, there is little incentive to prosecute. Further, mid-level managers, who are often responsible for violations, are often immune from criminal prosecution because they do not meet the statutory definition of “employer.” In addition, prosecutors must prove that an employer “willfully violated” the Act, thus allowing employers to claim ignorance of worker safety laws. Finally, the Act only covers worker deaths, ignoring circumstances where employees suffer serious injuries.

To read or download the 13-page PDF, "Prosecuting Worker Endangerment: The Need for Stronger Criminal Penalties for Violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act," click here or visit the ACS Web site at www.acslaw.org.

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