As an employer, you have a legal as well as moral obligation to make sure that the people working for your benefit do so in as “safe and healthful” an environment as possible. When bosses routinely and intentionally ignore that principle, people get hurt. And sometimes they die.

And there is evidence that the threat of fines by OSHA and other agencies have not been effective in regard to influencing compliance in this area. Perhaps a more aggressive stance would make an impact; perhaps an action such as the one just taken in Ohio.

As reported on this site this morning, an Ohio county court has sentenced an Akron roofing contractor to prison after he pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the death of a 39-year-old employee. In November of 2017, the worker fell from a three-story roof while working without required fall protection. It was his second day on the job. The employer was sentenced to three years in prison for ignoring safety hazards and failing to provide workers’ compensation coverage as required. In addition to his incarceration, the court ordered him to pay $303,152 in restitution to the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) after he pleaded guilty to workers’ compensation fraud. 

The BWC investigation found that two other employees had been injured in falls prior to the fatal accident, and that the employer did not have workers’ compensation coverage at the time. Investigators also found evidence of employees working (without safety equipment) after the bureau had been told the business was no longer in operation. And as icing on this rancid cake, he had consistently reported not having employees over the years, but an audit found almost $286,000 in payroll to employees from July 1, 2009, through July 1, 2018.

What a slime.

While the Ohio BWC in recent years seems to have been fairly aggressive in pursuing fraud convictions for employers who fail to carry workers’ compensation protection, convictions and prison time in response to workplace injuries due to employer negligence are rare. I would suggest they should become more common, as fines or the threat of them seem to lack the incentive to create a safer workplace.

As reported just last week, a study focused on mine safety found no correlation between safe mining operations and paid civil monetary penalties issued by the Mine Safety and Health Administration. An audit from the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General found no correlation between safe mining operations and those paid fines. According to the report:

The audit analyzed public MSHA incident and violation data between 2000 and 2017. Findings show that although MSHA collected about 90% of the more than $1 billion in violation penalties issued over the 18-year period, “most fatal or permanent-injury accidents occurred at mines where operators paid almost all of their penalties assessed.” Further, the auditors report “the frequency of severe violation recurrence was very similar whether or not violation penalties were paid.” 

I suspect a similar study related to OSHA fines might find them similarly ineffective in regard to preventing workplace deaths. What just might get employers attention, however, is the threat of incarceration for injury or death due to intentional negligence and criminal fraud. 

After all, committing workers’ comp fraud and intentionally endangering employees is a crime. It may be helpful to know that if you are going to be a slime, you are going to do the time.

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