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osha: Criminal Prosecutions of Workplace Fatalities
Since the creation of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 32 years ago, there have been more than 200,000 workplace-related deaths. However, OSHA has referred only 151 cases to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution -- and the maximum penalty companies face for a "willful violation" of OSHA laws is a misdemeanor. Federal prosecutors have declined to pursue two-thirds of these cases, and only eight of them have resulted in prison sentences for company officials. Here's a look at those eight cases. [Note: Dates refer to the date of the OSHA referral.]

1988 -- Elliot Plumbing & Heating Company (Howard Elliot)

Howard Elliot, owner of a South Dakota plumbing firm, pled guilty to criminal charges of willfully violating OSHA trenching safety standards after two of his employees were killed in a May 1988 trench collapse. He received a six-month sentence (which was suspended to 45 days) and 3 years probation. Elliot also was ordered to pay restitution to the victims' families.

[sources: OSHA; Business Insurance]

1994 -- Kazimierz Chmielewski (Protech Construction)

Chmielewski was the owner of Protech Construction Company, which was cited by OSHA for several safety violations at an Illinois work site. One charge -- the failure to install a protective guard rail on a scaffold -- was characterized by OSHA as a willful violation. OSHA proposed a penalty of $35,000 for the willful violation and $4,500 for additional violations. Chmielewski then twice offered $1,000 cash bribes to OSHA officials to get out of the $35,000 willful violation charge. In November 1998, he pled guilty to one count of bribery and was sentenced to six months in jail and six months home confinement.

[sources: OSHA, Chicago Daily Law Bulletin]

1995 -- MIT Tank Wash (Robert Swing)

Employees of MIT Tank Wash, a tank cleaning company in Savannah, Ga., were required to clean fuel out of the tanks -- including a hazardous fuel additive, fleurodyne FD-100, that requires a special, poisonous solvent. Violating OSHA regulations, MIT's employees routinely cleaned tanks alone. On May 11, 1993, employee Robert Girvin Jr. entered a tank alone, quickly became disoriented, and died from the toxic fumes. Owner Robert Swing had previously been warned by OSHA to buy proper safety equipment -- including a retrieval system to rescue workers -- but he hadn't. In June 1995, Swing pled guilty to a willful violation of OSHA regulations, and was sentenced to six months in jail, one year probation, and a $190,000 fine.

[sources: OSHA, Occupational Health and Safety]

1996 -- C&S Erectors (Roy G. Stoops)

On May 1, 1996, Brian Smith, an employee of C&S Erectors, fell approximately 35 feet to his death while laying steel decking on the roof of a construction site in Jonestown, Pa. The company had a substantial history of OSHA violations, and an investigation determined that C&S previously had been warned by the project's general contractor about its failure to provide fall protection. The company's owner, Roy G. Stoops, pled guilty to a willful violation and was sentenced to four months in prison and ordered to pay $6,000 in restitution to Smith's estate. The company was sentenced to one year of probation and held jointly liable for teh restitution.

[source: OSHA]

1996 -- Theodore Smith and John Dennis (South East Towers)

Smith and Dennis were the owners of South East Towers, a South Carolina communications tower company. One of their employees, John Christiansen, was killed in 1995 when he fell 150 feet while retrieving equipment from a tower in Jacksonville, Fla. According to OSHA, the two men tried to cover up the fact that Christiansen was not wearing the proper safety equipment when he fell. Smith and Dennis pled guilty to a willful violation in April 1997 and each was sentenced to three months in prison. The two men were also ordered to pay more than $7,300 restitution for Christiansen's funeral.

[sources: OSHA, Associated Press]

1997 -- LeMaster Steel Erectors (Jay Holloman, Michael Onyon, Ronald Creighton)

On Aug. 9, 1996, Jeffrey Highfill, an employee of LeMaster Steel Erectors, fell more than 25 feet from the roof of a construction site in Mason, Ohio. Three years later, the firm pled guilty to willfully violating federal fall protection regulations, and two of its officials -- Company Safety Director Michael Onyon and Regional Manager Jay Holloman -- as well as site foreman Ronald Lee Creighton, pled guilty to making false statements to OSHA investigators. Hollomon and Onyon each were sentenced to six months in prison, three years probation, and fines of $2,000. Creighton was sentenced to four months in prison, three years probation, and $1,000 in fines. LeMaster Steel was fined $300,000, ordered to pay $3,500 in burial expenses, and placed on five years probation.

[source: OSHA]

2000 -- Walter Marble

The owner of an Illinois plumbing company, Marble pled guilty to charges that he lied to investigators regarding a 1999 trench collapse that killed employee Chad Sacker, who was buried under approximately 8 feet of soil. In an attempt to avoid liability, Marble obstructed OSHA's investigation by creating fake documents to cover up the incident. He was sentenced to five months in prison, five months home confinement, 2 years supervised release following the home confinement and a $3,000 fine.

[sources: OSHA, U.S. Department of Justice]

2001 -- Moshe Junger

Moshe Junger, a demolition contractor and owner of Mordechai Rubbish, Inc., pled guilty in January 2002 to causing the death of a worker by failing to comply with OSHA regulations. Junger's company had been hired to demolish a building in Brooklyn, N.Y. Prior to that, an OSHA compliance officer had visited the site and instructed the general contractor not to begin demolition until he or the demolition subcontractor had obtained an engineering survey to find out if the building had the structural integrity to support the workers and their equipment. The general contractor advised Junger of this requirement; however, Junger authorized the demolition to commence without having obtained the survey. On April 30, 2001, workers drove a 24,000-pound material handler onto the second floor of the building to remove several 5,000-pound steel beams. While removing a beam, the cement floor under the machine handler collapsed and worker Rogelio Villanueva-Daza was fatally crushed by the falling beam. Junger was sentenced to four months in prison and, as part of his settlement agreed, to pay a $100,000 penalty to OSHA.

[sources: OSHA, U.S. Department of Justice]

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