Willful OSHA Violations Could Lead to Criminal Charges - Worksite Medical

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Most employers are aware of the financial penalties they may face when health and safety violations occur on the job site.

But, the consequences of these violations are not just limited to monetary penalties or hazard abatement requirements levied by OSHA.  Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act), they can lead to criminal liability as well.

A recent example occurred back on Nov. 24, 2020. A criminal charge was filed against a Pennsylvania construction contractor due to the contractor’s alleged failure to protect a worker from trench hazards. After a worker died during a trench collapse in May 2017, OSHA considered it as a willful violation.

A willful violation is defined as a violation in which the employer either knowingly failed to comply with a legal requirement (purposeful disregard) or acted with plain indifference to employee safety.

The employer is contesting both the underlying OSHA citation and penalties, but will now face criminal prosecution. Just the issuance of a willful violation citation following an employee fatality is not enough to establish criminal liability, as the willfulness must be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt” in the proceedings. If proven guilty, the employer may have to pay hefty damages and/or face imprisonment.

Willful violations can have a severe impact on an employer’s business, as they may find it difficult to win bids on projects. The risk of willingly violating standards is great and can lead to personal and professional turmoil. Below are a few ways to minimize the adverse consequences and be prepared for your next OSHA inspection.

 

Reducing Risks to Avoid Willful Violations

 

  • Set aside time to regularly review and update operating procedures and safety manuals. Avoid template operations or safety manuals that may not address your actual operations and associated hazards.
  • If there is a known or obvious workplace hazard, prompt and fully address it. 
  • To further avoid willful violations and potential criminal charges, promptly and fully address all employee safety complaints and concerns. No one is more knowledgeable about the hazard associated with job duties than your workers. Employers who ignore valid safety or health concerns raised by employees could receive a “willful” citation if/when an issue does arise.
  • Train company management on protocols for handling OSHA inspections and investigations. Managers’ comments could be used as an admission of having previous knowledge of an issue that went unaddressed.
  • If OSHA shows up for an investigation or inspection, involve senior management and/or appropriate legal counsel. Under the OSH Act, employers are entitled to a company representative and their own attorney during OSHA investigations. It is advisable to exercise these rights to ensure that company interests are properly represented.

Taking these steps can protect your company from penalties, and can personally protect you and other employers from costly lawsuits and liability.

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About Worksite Medical

In most cases, OSHA requires medical surveillance testing, and at no cost to employees.

Worksite Medical makes that program easier with mobile medical testing.

We conduct on-site respirator fit tests, as well as audiometric exams, pulmonary function tests and heavy metal lab work, right on your job site. We also keep accurate, easy-to-access medical records for your convenience. You’ll keep your employees at work, and stay ahead of OSHA inspections.

With Worksite Medical, a mobile medical testing unit — we can bring all the resources of a lab to you. Our certified lab technicians can perform both qualitative and quantitative respirator tests to ensure a perfect fit.

Protect your team and your workplace now with Worksite Medical. Not sure what you need? Try our medical testing wizard here.

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