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 ...

GAO Confirms Dangerous Working Conditions across Poultry Industry

by Katie Tracy | May 25, 2016
This morning, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report finding that hazardous working conditions across the meat and poultry industry put workers at risk of on-the-job injuries and illnesses. While injury and illness rates reportedly declined in the decade from 2004 to 2013, GAO emphasizes that the decrease might not be because of improved working conditions in the industry. Rather, the drop is likely due to data-gathering challenges at the Department of Labor and underreporting across the industry.  ...

The Silica Standard: A Case Study of Inequality in Worker Health and Safety Standards

by Katie Tracy | May 19, 2016
Back in March, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) finalized its long-awaited silica standard, requiring employers to reduce workers' exposure to the toxic, cancer-causing dust so common to construction and fracking sites, among other workplaces. OSHA estimates that the new standard will prevent more than 600 deaths and 900 new cases of silicosis annually. That is certainly commendable, but the kudos would be more heartfelt if the new standard had been adopted decades earlier and if it fully addressed ...

New Oxfam Report: Poultry Industry Denies Worker Requests for Bathroom Breaks

by Katie Tracy | May 11, 2016
Can you imagine working for a boss who refuses you the dignity of taking a bathroom break? According to a revealing new report published today by Oxfam America, denial of bathroom breaks is a very real practice at poultry plants across the country, and line workers at these plants often "wait inordinately long times (an hour or more), then race to accomplish the task within a certain timeframe (e.g., ten minutes) or risk discipline."  If you've never worked on an ...

Reflections on Workers' Memorial Day

by Matt Shudtz | April 28, 2016
Today, a lot of numbers will be thrown around – the staggering number of workers who died gruesome deaths on the job last year, the paltry fines that employers responsible for those deaths paid, the months and years we've waited for Congress to revisit the Occupational Safety and Health Act to make it more relevant to our modern workforce. There's good reason to reflect on those numbers. They tell us something important about our society and our relationship to work. ...

Steinzor in The New York Times: Judgment Day for Reckless Executives

by Brian Gumm | April 08, 2016
On April 6, U.S. District Court Judge Irene Berger sentenced former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship to one year in jail and a $250,000 fine for conspiring to violate federal health and safety standards at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia. The mine exploded and killed 29 miners in April 2010.  In an April 7 New York Times op-ed, CPR Member Scholar Rena Steinzor, Professor of Law at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, ...

Steinzor Reacts to Blankenship Sentencing

by Rena Steinzor | April 06, 2016
Today, U.S. District Court Judge Irene Berger sentenced former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship for conspiring to violate federal health and safety standards at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia. Upper Big Branch exploded and killed 29 miners in April 2010. CPR Member Scholar Rena Steinzor, Professor of Law at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, issued the following statement: "Although Mr. Blankenship won't spend much time in jail, an outcome determined by a ...

OSHA's New Silica Rule: CPR's Matt Shudtz Reacts

by Matt Shudtz | March 24, 2016
Decades in the making, OSHA’s new silica rule will better protect millions of workers from a highly toxic, cancer-causing substance that has killed thousands while the rule slowly worked its way through the regulatory gauntlet, administration after administration. Today, in quarries, foundries, building sites, and kitchen rehab jobs across the country, workers can look forward to breathing cleaner air. But today’s announcement is far from the end of the story. Next comes the inevitable litigation. Following their tired playbook, special ...

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 ...

USDA Official Throws OSHA Under the Bus

by Matt Shudtz | March 22, 2016
Partisan efforts in Congress to roll back health and safety rules are common fodder on this blog. But last week, we saw a new twist, with a high-level Obama Administration official giving cover to a right-wing attempt to weaken protections for hundreds of thousands of workers in the poultry industry. The workers in question are at the center of the highly industrialized process of turning live chickens into shrink-wrapped skinless parts. That puts them at a critical juncture in the ...

More Delay for OSHA's New Silica Rule

by Katie Tracy | February 24, 2016
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has informally announced that it is unlikely to finalize its long-awaited rule to limit workers' exposure to respirable crystalline silica by the month's end, as the agency had expected. OSHA's deputy assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, Jordan Barab, told Politico on Friday, Feb. 18, that he "can pretty much guarantee" the rule will be delayed, but he expects "it will be out soon." The silica rule, which OSHA proposed ...

What Are 'Ag-Gag' Law Proponents Trying to Hide?

by Mollie Rosenzweig | February 19, 2016
At a time when consumers are demanding greater transparency in the food system – and some food companies are delivering by means of genetically modified organism labeling and removal of artificial food dyes — a troubling North Carolina law that runs counter to that goal has recently gone into effect. The state’s so-called “ag-gag” law prohibits whistleblowers from making audio or video recordings inside industrial agricultural facilities. Following the success of a similar suit in Idaho last year, consumer protection ...

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 ...

CPR's Shudtz on the Silica Rule

by Matt Shudtz | December 21, 2015
This afternoon, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that it was sending its final version of a long-awaited rule on silica dust in the workplace to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) for final review. CPR Executive Director Matthew Shudtz responded to the news with the following statement: Workers across the United States have been waiting for this day for a long time. But don’t overlook the fact that this announcement simply marks a procedural accomplishment in a ...

What’s on the Labor Department’s Regulatory Agenda?

by Katie Tracy | November 23, 2015
Late last week, the White House released its fall 2015 Unified Agenda—the semi-annual report on regulations under development or review by each federal agency. As usual, and therefore of little surprise, this latest agenda spells delay for a laundry list of critical safeguards at several agencies. According to CPR senior analyst James Goodwin’s review of the regulatory agendas for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and several other agencies, several new protections will be delayed anywhere from ...

Chickens Aren’t the Only Ones Suffering at the Slaughterhouse

by Katie Tracy | November 10, 2015
A startling new report by Oxfam America reveals just how dangerous it is to work inside a poultry processing plant. The report is packed full of alarming statistics and heart-breaking personal stories from brave workers, exposing an industry that fails to protect workers from well-known hazards and that discourages workers from reporting injuries when they occur. Despite the underreporting of injuries and illnesses, the poultry industry’s safety record is dismal. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the industry had ...

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, ...

Labor Board's New 'Joint Employer' Standard Offers College Football Players a Second Chance

by Katie Tracy | September 10, 2015
Marking a victory for workers, on August 27, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a highly anticipated decision in the case of Browning-Ferris Industries, updating its overly restrictive standard for determining “joint employer” status for purposes of collective bargaining. The decision responds to the increasing reliance on contingent work arrangements that often involve multiple employers, and reflects the Board’s recognition that its application of labor law must be adjusted to address the realities of today’s economy. Much of the ...

Workers' Rights

The nation's workers face challenges of multiple fronts. Safety in the workplace continues to be a national problem, with thousads of workplace deaths and injuries every year. In addition, workers struggle for protection from wage theft and other economic protections.

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