For decades, the most egregious workplace safety violations have routinely escaped prosecution, even when they led to deaths or serious injuries, says the New York Times. Employers with extensive records of safety violations often paid insignificant fines and continued to ignore safety rules. Now, a partnership between the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Justice Department prosecutors has been forged to identify and single out for prosecution the nation’s most flagrant workplace safety violators.
The group would use existing laws that carry considerably stiffer penalties than those governing workplace safety alone. They include environmental laws, criminal statutes used in racketeering and white-collar crime cases, and even some provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, a corporate reform law. The result may be to increase significantly the number of prosecutions brought against dangerous employers. The Times calls the effort noteworthy in an administration that has resisted efforts to increase penalties for safety and environmental violations. The initial planning for the prosecution effort won the blessing of former Attorney General John Ashcroft. His successor, Alberto R. Gonzales, has been briefed on it and is said to be supportive.