Workplace safety is emerging as a key issue in 2016, and corporate executives could find themselves criminally responsible for failing to protect their employees, reports Corporate Counsel. The U.S. Departments of Labor and Justice announced last month a joint initiative to crack down on environmental and workplace safety crimes. Under the “worker endangerment initiative,” officials will seek to prosecute workplace safety violations under federal environmental laws, in addition to long-standing workplace safety statutes such as the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA).
The law firm Holland & Hart says the marriage of environmental and safety prosecutions is about imposing stiffer criminal penalties. That's because OSHA and other workplace safety statutes generally provide for misdemeanor penalties, while federal environmental laws call for more serious sanctions. The two federal departments say environmental violations and violations of workplace safety laws go hand in hand. As the agencies see it, employers who cut corners on worker safety laws are also likely to violate environmental regulations. “In essence, this initiative provides the government with a mechanism to turn a workplace safety investigation into an examination of a company's environmental compliance,” the lawyers argue.