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|State Responsibility: Providing Worker Protections|
Historically, states have embraced their responsibility to protect the safety and health of their workers. States plans use a variety of activities to encourage employers to establish worker protections programs. States offer companies leadership, guidance and flexibility to help them save lives and prevent injuries and illnesses.
A comprehensive safety and health program is one of the most effective tools employers have to address workplace injuries and illnesses. Recent studies have estimated that safety and health programs save $4 to $6 for every dollar invested. States use a combination of additional penalties and criminal prosecution against employers in cases of death or serious injury.
Safety & Health Programs
Statistics show that many accidents and illnesses are preventable through an effective safety and health program. For a workplace program to be effective, the employer should develop a comprehensive plan emphasizing both management commitment and employee participation. Development and implementation of such a program should result in lower injury, illness and fatality rates along with lower comp costs. Safety and health programs further the goal of changing the workplace environment to increase employer and worker awareness of, commitment to, and involvement in safety and health.
Alaska, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Tennessee and Washington require employers to develop and maintain comprehensive safety and health programs–which contain the elements of worksite analysis to identify actual and potential hazards, technical and administrative control of the hazards, and training for all personnel.
California law requires all employers to set up effective written injury and illness prevention programs. Employers must conduct periodic worksite inspections to identify unsafe conditions and work practices, and eliminate any hazards found.
Minnesota requires employers in industries with high injury and illness incidence and severity rates to develop a written workplace safety and health program. Under Minnesota’s A Workplace Accident and Injury Reduction (AWAIR) Act, employers of 25 or more employees are required to establish a joint labor-management safety committee.
Nevada requires employers with 11 or more employees or any manufacturer of explosives to have a “Written Workplace Safety Program.” Nevada also requires employers with 25 employees and up to develop and implement a safety committee. To assist the employers in understanding the Nevada statutes, regular training sessions are conducted and a written guide is made available to employers.
North Carolina requires employers with a high rate of workers’ compensation claims to have written safety and health programs, and to establish formal safety and health committees.
Oregon law requires labor-management workplace safety committees for most employers in the state. To assist small employers in meeting this requirement, Oregon offers an alternative to the traditional safety committee. The innovative approach is for employers with 10 or fewer employees and is designed to meet the needs and special issues of small businesses in the state. To assist employers in setting up an “innovative safety committee,” a guide is available in hard copy or on the OR-OSHA web site. Along with outlining the process, the guide provides blank copies of all necessary paperwork.
Washington requires every employer to develop a written plan addressing the hazards of that business. The plan must include a safety and health committee of employer and employee representatives, and employee training in safe work practices. The state’s video, Staying a Step Ahead, helps employers and their employees establish accident prevention programs on their own without waiting first for on-site consultation.
Violations Causing Worker Death or Serious Injury
Arizona statute directs the Industrial Commission to assess an additional $25,000 penalty against any employer for each employee who suffers permanent disability or death as the result of a willful or repeated OSH violation. The following provisions must be met: the citation was a final order; workers’ compensation benefits were paid as a result of the employee’s permanent disability or death; and the OSH violation did not result from employee disobedience. The additional penalty is paid to injured employees or their dependents.
Legislation that became effective in California in January 2000 provided increased penalties and prison terms for willful violations causing an employee’s death or prolonged bodily impairment, if charged by a district attorney. Under new felony provisions that became effective in 2000, an individual can be fined up to $250,000 and a corporation up to $1.5 million. Heavier penalties for those criminally responsible for workplace death or injury and the criminal investigations are a powerful deterrent.
In September 2001, Iowa filed criminal willful charges for the first time for a communication tower fatality when a 29-year-old employee died on his first day on the job. In 2004, an Iowa District Court ruled that the defendant was guilty on one count of Willful Violation Causing Death and one count of Willful Injury Causing Death. Sentencing included fines of $1500 for each count and the defendant was committed to the custody of the Sheriff of the County for 365 days for each count.
Under Kentucky law, liens may be placed against employers who are in violation of any requirement of the Kentucky safety and health statutes, once administrative and judicial appeals have been exhausted.
For the first time in Michigan history, an employer will serve time in jail for a workplace fatality. On Oct. 10, 2002, James Morrin, Jr., foreman for J.A. Concrete Construction Company, was sentenced to 360 days in jail and three years probation for a workplace fatality. The corporation was sentenced to five years probation, and must pay fines totaling $156,903 to the Court, a $50,000 penalty to MIOSHA, and must adhere to all the terms of the Settlement Agreement. The agreement will provide MIOSHA with the tools and the ability to closely monitor the company and to help ensure their employees will be protected.
During its 2000 session, the Legislature amended the Minnesota Occupational Safety and Health Act by increasing the minimum penalty assessed in cases where a violation causes or contributes to the death of an employee. The minimum non-negotiable fine for all citations connected to the death of an employee if there is a willful or repeat violation is $50,000. If there is no willful or repeat violation, the minimum fine is $25,000. In the 2002 session, the Legislature amended the minimum non-negotiable fine to reduce the penalty amount for employers with fewer than 50 employees.
Nevada has a specific regulation pertaining to violations that result in the death of an employee. Any employer who willfully violates any requirement of this chapter, or any standard, rule regulation or order, where the violation results in the death of any employee shall be punished. For the first offense, by a fine of not more than $50,000 or by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than 6 months, or by both fine and imprisonment. The second offense would be double both the fine and jail time.
Oregon law provides for a civil penalty of up to $10,000 or imprisonment up to six months or both, if a willful violation of the OSHA Act materially contributed to the death of an employee.
Virginia law provides criminal penalties up to $70,000 or imprisonment up to six months or both for the first occurrence of any willful violation that causes the death of an employee. A second occurrence can double the fine and sentence. Virginia’s policy is to recommend criminal prosecution for manslaughter against any person whose flagrant, violation of VOSH laws results in the death of an employee. Virginia has successfully prosecuted a criminal willful violation and a manslaughter charge.
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