Under the new administration, there are several issues that pose significant potential liability. These issues are discussed in this paper.
It is no secret that under the Obama Administration businesses can expect to face increased OSHA inspections, resulting in more citations and increased penalties. Businesses should also be aware that heightened enforcement of workplace safety regulations could result in penalties that reach beyond company monetary liability. Criminal sanctions for violations of OSHA standards are not new; however, referrals for prosecution of businesses and individuals where OSHA deems the violation to be willful are expected to rise in the coming the years. This article revisits some recent workplace safety cases that led to criminal charges and discusses the steps that companies, safety managers and supervisors should take to reduce the likelihood of criminal sanctions for workplace safety violations.
Unfortunately, in August 2007 a fire at the former Deutsche Bank building in Manhattan caused the deaths of two New York City firefighters. The building had been badly damaged on 9/11 and it was in the process of being taken down. Prior to the fire a pipe connection to the building fire water standpipe system in the basement had been cut to facilitate the demolition work. The firefighters responding to the fire were told that the standpipe was working and they pumped hundreds of gallons into the pipe, mistakenly believing that the water was reaching the upper floors. Additionally, asbestos contractors were supposed to build plywood walls around the stairwells to contain asbestos dust. Instead the contractors apparently sealed off the stairwells completely, causing the firefighters access to be blocked.
The investigation following the fire revealed numerous previous unreported fires and other safety issues at the building during demolition. OSHA cited the general contractor and the asbestos subcontractor for numerous violations related to fire safety, access, fall hazards and electrical safety. The general contractor was cited for 19 violations, including 2 willful citations resulting in $193,000 in proposed penalties. The subcontractor was cited for 25 violations, including 3 willful citations resulting in $271,500.
The incident also led to state criminal charges. The subcontractor, its abatement director and foreman were charged with manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and reckless endangerment. The site safety manager for the general contractor was also charged with manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, reckless endangerment and other charges related to false paperwork regarding the disconnected standpipe. While the general contractor was not charged criminally, they agreed to fund an independent monitor, approved by the district attorney, to oversee safety and subcontractor hiring procedures.
Following a March 2008 crane collapse in New York City that led to the deaths of the crane operator, 5 crew members and an occupant of an adjacent building, the crane company and its owner faced numerous OSHA citations as well as criminal charges.
According to the post-accident investigation, Rapetti Rigging Services, Inc.