OSHA Teams Up with Department of Justice to Utilize Criminal Prosecution to Protect Worker Safety

The United State Department of Justice and the United States Department of Labor have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding to provide for the coordination of matters pertaining to worker safety that could lead to criminal prosecution by the Department of Justice. Under the Memorandum, the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices will work with OSHA, Mine Safety (MSHA), and Wage and Hour Division to investigate and prosecute worker endangerment violations.

Over a year ago, the Departments of Justice and Labor began meeting to explore a joint effort to increase the frequency and effectiveness of criminal prosecutions of worker endangerment violations. This resulted in a decision to consolidate the authorities to pursue worker safety statutes within the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resource Division’s Environmental Crimes Section. In a letter sent on December 17, 2015 to all 93 U.S. Attorneys across the country, Deputy Attorney Sally Quillian Yates urged federal prosecutors to work with the Environmental Crimes Section in pursuing worker endangerment violations.

The OSH Act is enforced through administrative penalties, including fines and corrective action. Additionally, the OSH Act provides criminal sanctions for three types of conduct: (1) willfully violating a specific standard, and thus causing the death of an employee; (2) giving advance notice of OSHA inspection activity; and (3) falsification of documents filed or required to be maintained under the OSH Act. However, prosecutors are now encouraged to consider using Title 18 and environmental offenses to enhance penalties and increase deterrence. In addition to prosecuting environmental crimes, the Environment and Natural Resources Division has also been strengthening its efforts to pursue civil cases that involved worker safety violations under the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the Toxic Substances Control Act.

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