DOJ Partners with OSHA, MSHA

The Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division will work with the Department of Labor and U.S. attorneys for a broader look at environmental and workplace safety crimes, the agencies announced.

Saying the goal is to prevent and deter crimes that put the lives and the health of workers at risk, the Departments of Justice and Labor announced Dec. 17 they will join forces to more effectively prosecute such crimes. DOJ's Environment and Natural Resources Division and U.S. Attorney's offices will work with OSHA and MSHA, as well as DOL's Wage and Hour Division, to investigate and prosecute worker endangerment violations.

"On an average day in America, 13 workers die on the job, thousands are injured, and 150 succumb to diseases they obtained from exposure to carcinogens and other toxic and hazardous substances while they worked," said Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates. "Given the troubling statistics on workplace deaths and injuries, the Department of Justice is redoubling its efforts to hold accountable those who unlawfully jeopardize workers' health and safety."

"Safety and security in the workplace are a shared commitment. Workplace injuries and illnesses cause an enormous amount of physical, financial, and emotional hardship for workers and their families and underscore the urgent need for employers to provide a safe workplace for their employees," said Department of Labor Deputy Secretary Chris Lu. "Today's announcement demonstrates a renewed commitment by both the Department of Labor and the Department of Justice to utilize criminal prosecution as an enforcement tool to protect the health and safety of workers."

Yates send a memo Dec. 17 to all 93 U.S. attorneys nationwide urging them to have their prosecutors work with the Environmental Crimes Section in pursuing worker endangerment violations. Although the worker safety statutes generally provide for no more than misdemeanor penalties, DOJ is encouraging prosecutors to consider using Title 18 and environmental offenses, when they occur in conjunction with worker safety crimes, to enhance the penalties and thus increase deterrence, according to DOJ, which reported the statutes included in this plan are the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, and the Mine Safety and Health Act.

The announcement cited a past collaborative prosecution that safety professionals are sure to remember: the prosecution of McWane and a division, Atlantic States Cast Iron Pipe. After a seven-month trial, Atlantic States and four of its managers were convicted of felony environmental crimes, with the individuals sentenced to incarceration for terms ranging from six months to 70 months, according to DOJ.

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