Most employers know that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration can assess civil penalties for violation of safety standards. However, they may not be aware that the OSH Act also contains criminal penalties. While prosecutions are relatively rare, in egregious circumstances, federal prosecutors have sought prison sentences and criminal fines against business owners and supervisors found to have intentionally ignored employee safety in situations that led to serious injury or death.
Last week, the owner of a Florida framing company was sentenced to a 30-day federal prison sentence following the death of an employee who fell from a residential construction site. OSHA found that the worker was not using mandatory fall protection, and that the framing company ignored a third party warning the previous day about the lack of safety equipment. In addition to a $60,000 civil penalty, the owner pled guilty to the criminal charges, resulting in the prison sentence.
Officers and supervisors should be advised with regard to their potential personal liability for workplace safety violations. For employers in construction and related industries, fall protection remains OSHA’s top enforcement priority. Companies that ignore or fail to consistently enforce fall protection requirements risk escalating civil and criminal penalties.