Companies have been watching OSHA closely to see what direction the agency takes under the new administration. Between rollbacks of regulations and threatened budget cuts, there is a good chance OSHA will be less aggressive in the future. But there are clear signs that OSHA may be the least of a company’s worries if there is a serious accident.
The October, 2016, deaths of Robert Higgins and Kelvin Mattocks in Boston is a good example of how other agencies and government entities may get involved. The two men were killed when a trench collapsed, snapping a fire hydrant supply line, drowning them both.
OSHA proposed fines of about $1.5 million for Atlantic Drain Service Co., a hefty fine, but still open for negotiation. However, the case didn’t end there. In April, a local county indicted the company owner, Kevin Otto, on two counts of manslaughter. Here’s the story:
Similarly, an offshore company that was investigated by BSEE for a fatal accident on a platform was later fined by the EPA under the clean water act and settled for more than seven million dollars.
What’s the lesson?
- OSHA isn’t the only player when it comes to safety incidents. other agencies may claim jurisdiction and, in the case of the EPA, it has the ability to level high fines. State and local governments may have the ability to level fines and to bring criminal charges, especially when there has been a death.
- Civil lawsuits are always a possibility. This may involve workers who were injured, their families if the workers are killed or local residents if there is an environmental incident.
- An OSHA citation is a powerful weapon for local prosecutors or plaintiff lawyers. OSHA will have performed an investigation and produced a finding. these may carry weight in other court proceedings.
Companies cannot assume that violating OSHA rules is a reasonable and cost-effective gamble. OSHA’s involvement may only be the start fo a much longer, more expensive process.