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BP Settlement Shows Need For Stronger OSH Act That Allows for More Criminal Sanctions on Negligent Employers

Thursday, November 15, 2012
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Contact: Dorry Samuels

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BP Settlement Shows Need For Stronger OSH Act That Allows for More Criminal Sanctions on Negligent Employers

Statement of Tom O’Connor, Executive Director, National Council for Occupational Safety and Health

Today, as the federal government reaches its settlement with BP over the Deepwater Horizon disaster that killed 11 workers and spilled millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, we see the rare event of the U.S. Department of Justice imposing criminal sanctions on an employer.

Unlike violations of federal environmental laws, employer misconduct leading to a worker’s death can only be prosecuted as a misdemeanor under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act. As a result, few cases are referred to the Department of Justice and even fewer are prosecuted. This is a gross injustice to the families of those people who lose their lives on the job due to employer negligence or misconduct. 

Since OSHA was created in 1970, there have been more than 200,000 workplace deaths – approximately 6,000 per year. Yet only a tiny percentage of these led to criminal enforcement. Between 2003 and 2008, only 10 criminal cases were brought for violations of the OSH Act, despite the fact that OSHA conducted nearly 10,000 fatality investigations during that time.

BP’s $4.5 billion fine is a drop in the bucket compared to its $5.5 billion profit last quarter alone. Real justice for the 11 workers killed in the Deepwater Horizon explosion would be a strengthened OSH Act that allows for proper sanctions for all employers whose negligence lead to the loss of lives of their employees. Following the BP disaster, Congress failed to take action to strengthen the criminal prosecution provisions of the OSH Act. We call on Congress to revisit this issue and to institute long overdue reforms of the nation’s outdated worker safety laws.

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The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health is a federation of local and statewide organizations; a private, non-profit coalition of labor unions, health and technical professionals, and others interested in promoting and advocating for worker health and safety.

To learn more about the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, visit: http://www.coshnetwork.org.