Op-Ed: Prosecuting Safety Violations that Lead to Worker Deaths

by Matthew Freeman | June 01, 2016

CPR’s Rena Steinzor and Katherine Tracy had an op-ed in the Sacramento Bee over the weekend highlighting the reluctance of police and prosecutors to treat worker deaths as if they were anything but mere accidents. In fact, they’re often the result of illegal cost-cutting and safety shortcuts by employers, behavior that sometimes warrants criminal charges. They write:

When a worker dies because a trench collapses, and it turns out that managers sacrificed safety to get the job done faster, that’s a crime. When managers operate factories with equipment that doesn’t have an accessible emergency shut-off switch and an employee is crushed or loses a limb, those managers should be indicted. But with few exceptions, police and prosecutors treat worker deaths and injuries as unforeseeable “accidents” that can’t be prevented. So too many companies think they can save money by cutting corners and view the fines involved as a cost of doing business.

They go on to tell the tragic story leading to the death of Lawrence Daquan “Day” Davis, a temporary employee who died on his first day of work at a Bacardi bottling plant in Florida. Ignoring requirements to provide comprehensive safety training, the company sent Davis out on the line within 15 minutes of his arrival at the plant after showing him a brief safety video. Not too long later, Davis was instructed to clean up some broken bottles under a ...

When On-the-Job Deaths & Injuries Warrant Prosecution

by Matthew Freeman | March 24, 2016
NEWS RELEASE: New Manual Helps Workplace-Safety Activists Push for Criminal Charges in On-the-Job Tragedies Washington, DC ----- Every year, thousands of workers across the United States are killed on the job — 4,679 in 2014 alone. Thousands more are seriously injured. Many of these deaths and injuries are entirely preventable when employers put in place basic safety measures. Some even result from company policies and practices that encourage and reward behavior that creates unacceptably risky conditions. Ignoring workplace safety requirements is against the ...

Feds Resolve to Expand Criminal Prosecutions of Workplace Safety Violations in the New Year

by Katie Tracy | December 22, 2015
As the year draws to a close and the New Year approaches, people all around the world will be contemplating what they can resolve to do better in 2016. This year, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) seem to be celebrating the tradition as well. In a move akin to a “New Year’s Resolution” to do better by workers, the two agencies have just announced that they will be expanding their “worker endangerment initiative” to bolster ...

A Day's Work: Safety Training for Temp Workers Would Prevent Many Injuries and Deaths

by Katie Tracy | September 28, 2015
Lawrence Daquan “Day” Davis, 21, died tragically on his first day of work at his first job, as a “temp worker” at a Bacardi bottling facility in Jacksonville, Florida. He began his shift within 15 minutes of arriving at the facility, after completing some paperwork and watching a very brief safety video. Although working in a bottling facility is a dangerous job, Davis and his coworkers received no real training about the potential hazards or proper safety procedures. Within hours, ...

CPR Submits Comments on Labor Department Guidance for Ensuring Federal Contractors are Complying with Labor Laws

by Katie Tracy | September 01, 2015
Every year, the federal government awards private firms billions of dollars in federal contracts. The contracts are supposed to go to “responsible” companies, but that isn’t always the case. According to the Government Accountability Office, between 2005 and 2009, the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division issued 25 of its 50 largest fines against 20 federal contractors who later received over $9 billion in contracts in 2009. Over the same period, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued 8 of ...

Kill a Worker? You're Not a Criminal. Steal a Worker's Pay? You Are One.

by Rena Steinzor | July 16, 2015
Labor Secretary Tom Perez came into office pledging to create good jobs and take on the economic injustice that oppresses blue-collar workers, from raising the minimum wage and restoring unpaid overtime to combatting wage theft. Luckily, the head of his Wage and Hour Division, David Weil, the author of a revelatory report on how to make the most of strategic enforcement, has moved out quite aggressively.  It’s a pity that other, even more serious crimes, don’t seem to get the ...

States and localities are where it’s at, opportunities to win safer workplaces

by Celeste Monforton | June 26, 2014
Cross-posted from The Pump Handle. Luis Castaneda Gomez, 34 and Jesus Martinez Benitez, 32 were asphyxiated in June 2011 when they were doing repairs inside a manhole. Their employer, Triangle Grading and Paving, was hired by the City of Durham, NC to make water line repairs. The firm had a history of violating worker safety regulations. Worse yet, it was not the first time an employee of Triangle Grading was killed on-the-job. Durham, like most municipalities, did not have effective ...

In Dallas Morning News Op-Ed, McGarity Examines Texas Legislature's Response to West, Texas, Disaster

by Matthew Freeman | May 06, 2013
Last week, CPR’s Tom McGarity had a column in the Christian Science Monitor, describing the ways that the political right’s war on regulation and enforcement helped contribute to the West, Texas, fertilizer plant explosion last month. Today, he’s got a separate piece in the Dallas Morning News (and this past Friday, it was in the Houston Chronicle) taking a look at the Texas legislature’s response to the disaster. In the piece, McGarity takes a state legislator to task for declaring ...

Large OSHA Fine for Poultry Processor Highlights Flaw in USDA Proposal to Revise Inspection System

by Matt Shudtz | May 03, 2013
Just days before The Washington Post's Kimberly Kindy published her eye-opening story of chemical showers in chicken processing plants and the untimely death of a federal food safety inspector, OSHA announced fines totaling $58,775 in a case involving a worker fatality at another chicken processing plant – this one in Canton, Georgia. According to OSHA's press release, the worker "became caught in an unguarded hopper while attempting to remove a piece of cardboard."  The agency does not typically release the full ...

The Age of Greed: Children on Motorcycles Chasing Goats

by Rena Steinzor | February 07, 2012
The debate over whether the government protects people exposed to industrial hazards enough—or whether it engages in ruinous “overregulation”—is only occasionally coherent. Sometimes it’s downright bizarre, and never is it for the faint of heart. Consider the case of kids working on farms. Following a series of gruesome accidents involving teenagers as young as 14 who were smothered in grain elevators or lost legs to giant augers used to shovel crops into storage silos, the Department of Labor (DOL) announced a ...

Echoes of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in Today’s Debate over Regulation

by Matthew Freeman | March 25, 2011
One hundred years ago today, 146 people perished in one of the nation’s worst workplace tragedies – the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in the heart of New York City. The story is gruesome, and each detail of exactly how so many people were trapped in a burning building was, and remains, a reminder of what can happen when worker safety is sacrificed in the name of profit. Here’s the barest sketch. The Triangle Waist Factory in lower Manhattan relied on cheap, ...

Workplace Safety News This Week

by Ben Somberg | September 25, 2009
The Chemical Safety Board released its report Thursday on the 2008 explosion at the Imperial Sugar plant in Georgia, finding that the incident was "entirely preventable" (Reuters article, full report). Ken Ward Jr. gave helpful context for the announcement and followed up afterward with the criticism from unions for the Chemical Safety Board's "decision to not repeat its previous recommendations that the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration write tough standards regulating combustible dust in America’s workplaces." Celeste Monforton applauded ...

Wanted: A Wise Latina

by Rena Steinzor | July 23, 2009
This post is co-written by CPR President Rena Steinzor and Policy Analyst Matt Shudtz. Just as the traditional media finished a breathless cycle of reporting on how prospective Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor had renounced her claim that a “wise Latina” would make different decisions than a white man, an article in USA Today reminded us of the need for many more wise Latinas in the corridors of power in Washington. According to data compiled by the Bureau of Labor ...

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