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Is OSHA doing enough to protect workers in Illinois?

On behalf of Jeffrey Frederick of Frederick & Hagle posted in Workplace Accidents on Thursday, March 28, 2013.

In many instances, we will detail workplace accidents in Illinois where egregious lapses in safety result in the catastrophic injury or death of workers. In such instances, OSHA is usually called in to investigate, identify safety violations and levy fines. However, resulting fines are very often seriously reduced. For many surviving families, these drastic reductions feel like the tragedy is minimized, and that the reductions only further serve to give employers little motivation to make safety a first priority.

Following the fatal grain storage bin deaths of two Illinois teenagers in 2010, OSHA issued one of their larges fines ever against an employer. However, the $555,000 fine was later cut almost in half. This is not uncommon. One father of a 19 year-old similarly killed in a fatal accident on the job in a grain storage bin says, “Because this happens time and time again, year after year after year, they should pay the full fines, somebody should be prosecuted, and until we do this, until OSHA has the backbone to stand up to do this, we will never see this stop.”

This father was devastated when the fines levied against the employer of his son were reduced from $530,000 to a pitiful $42,000 for their willful safety violations in the grain storage bin that led to his son’s death. OSHA says that these reductions often occur because companies are legally entitled to challenge the citations and fine. The federal regulatory agency says they do what they can, but this father says they need to stop backing down on fines and do more to try to criminally prosecute these companies that gamble workers’ lives to increase company profits.

Because OSHA does not have the ability to criminally prosecute companies that ignore safety, thereby killing workers, families can feel frustrated when it seems like nothing is done when their loved one is killed on the job. While families of workers that die in an accident on the job can receive workers’ compensation death benefits, the family can also in some instances pursue a third-party suit. Such an action can in some instances hold liable parties financially accountable for the devastation. While this won’t bring back the loved one, it can send a clear message where OSHA often fails to do so.

Source: National Public Radio, “Fines Slashed In Grain Bin Entrapment Deaths,” Howard Berkes and Jim Morris, March 24, 2013

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