Workplace injuries remain a very real concern for employees throughout New York, Brooklyn and the Bronx. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has the responsibility to establish workplace safety regulations, to inspect worksites and to enforce those regulations. However, a workers' compensation lawyer knows that OSHA has many shortcomings.
OSHA is very understaffed and its budget is not sufficient to conduct regular inspections of worksites. The agency also moves very slowly when it comes to passing new regulations to protect workers, and the fines that accompany OSHA citations are often too low to be effective.
Despite its problems, however, OSHA did some positive things to improve worker safety over the course of 2014. Safety News Alert recently published a summary of OSHA trends in 2014, many of which could have a positive impact on worksite safety if the trends continue into 2015.
OSHA Trends in 2014
OSHA trends that should be continued into the new year include the following:
- More prosecutions of OSHA violations. Often, employers are not prosecuted for workplace safety violations even in situations where intentional failures led to worker fatalities. Although there is still a long way to go, OSHA did step up prosecutions in 2014. There were several instances in which CEOs were prosecuted and either pleaded guilty or went to trial. One CEO admitted guilt in the death of a worker who fell 15 feet. The CEO was sentenced to three years of probation, $20,000 in fines and restitution. Another CEO faced charges of involuntary manslaughter after a worker was buried alive. Penalties for involuntary manslaughter could involve up to four years of prison time. Prosecutions like this send an important message and if OSHA continues to bring criminal charges after worker deaths, this will be a strong deterrent.
- More widespread use of the general duty clause. The general duty clause allows OSHA to cite an employer and impose penalties when there were obvious safety violations but when no specific regulation applies to the situation. In 2014, the general duty clause was routinely invoked. In particular, employers were cited under the general duty clause after workers were exposed to toxic chemicals on the job. OSHA has been trying to update regulations on prohibited chemicals and chemical exposure limits to no avail, so this is a way to regulate toxic exposure even when the regulatory process is stalled.
- More citations for willful violations. When OSHA cites employers for willful violations, the agency can impose larger penalties. In one case, for example, $697,000 in fines accompanied citations for willful violations.
- Recording ergonomic injuries. There are too few regulations designed to prevent ergonomic injuries. OSHA used the general duty clause to issue citations when employers allowed workplace hazards leading to ergonomic injuries.
These trends are positive because they show OSHA exercising more muscle to protect workers. If the agency continues to be proactive over the course of 2015, hopefully employers will be forced to take workplace safety more seriously and fewer workers will be injured or killed while doing their jobs this year.
If you have suffered a disability in New York, contact the Law Offices of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP today by calling (800) 692-3717 or by visiting www.workerslaw.com.