Business Owner OSHA Criminal Liabilities and Prosecution

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Business Owner OSHA Criminal Liabilities and Prosecution

Business Owners Who Fail to Manage OSHA Compliance Face Potential Criminal Prosecution

Many business owners aren’t aware that they can be held criminally responsible for intentionally failing to manage OSHA safety regulations if this negligence results in a workplace fatality.

These cases demonstrates that The DOL (Department of Labor, OSHA is a department within DOL) & DOJ (Department of Justice) may actually be following through on their initiative announced in December, 2015 to begin holding business owners directly and criminally responsible by filing felony (rather than misdemeanor charges which were prevalent in the past) charges for preventable workplace fatalities.  Criminal liabilities for business owners, and even management, have long standing precedence in environmental (EPA) violation prosecutions, but historically OSHA hasn’t done this.  This could be changing.

Keep in mind that criminal liabilities can rise dramatically after a company has been previously cited by OSHA, and/or if Willfulness (ie: knowing about a hazard, but failing to take action to correct it) can be proven.

This includes potential jail time and major fines that can run into the $100,000 of thousands of dollars or more.

In addition to criminal liability, workplace fatalities caused by negligence can lead to civil lawsuits which often result in settlements that run into the $millions of dollars.

This blog post consists of several examples of OSHA criminal prosecutions of business owners who failed to take safety seriously:

Example #1:  Business Owner Sent To Jail & Fined $25,000 Plus Other Penalties after fatality (July 2021)

After a trench collapse resulted in the death of an employee,  the owner of a Colorado construction company called Contract One Inc. was sentenced to 10 months in jail, 3 years probation, ordered to pay $25,000 to the family, ordered to make charitable donations, submit to ongoing OSHA project inspections and more.

The owner was  cited for failing to conduct routine inspections, failure to provide ladders and for failing to follow other safety protocols which caused the death.

In addition, the local prosecutor and OSHA issued very damning press releases naming the business owner along with very critical statements about his lack of regard for workplace safety.

Example #2: Business Owner Gets $1.7 million criminal OSHA fine after fatality 

I wanted to make all of you aware of this rare enforcement case where the owner of a roofing company, Shawn D.Purvis, faces a $1.7 million dollar fine and criminal manslaughter charges after one of his employees died from a fall.

From the OSHA news release:

“Due to Purvis’ knowledge of the hazard and required safeguards, along with an extensive history of violations, OSHA cited him for 13 egregious willful violations – one for each exposed employee per job site – for failing to ensure the use of fall protection. Each egregious citation carries the maximum allowable penalty of $132,598. OSHA also cited Purvis for failing to provide fall protection training to his employees, and for exposing them to electrocution and eye hazards. OSHA has cited the owner for seven violations of fall protection requirements since September 2006.”

Two aspects of this enforcement case are very rare: 

  • Fines exceeding $1million:  These large fines do happen, but it’s rare and especially for a small company.
  • Criminal Charges: OSHA, and local prosecutors, always have the option to seek criminal charges when a fatality occurs due to an employer’s willful neglect of OSHA standards, but rarely do so.

In other words, this certainly isn’t the first time that a workplace fatality occurred after an employer willfully neglected safety standards, it happens every year.  Could this be a signal that OSHA intends to start ramping up criminal prosecutions?

This is also a strong reminder of the importance of managing Fall Protection standards at construction sites, especially given that falls are historically the #1 workplace killer and Fall Protection is consistently the #1 violation/citation issued to construction companies each year.

And if your company, or one of your subcontractors has already been cited for Fall Protection violations in the past, it’s a stark reminder of the potential consequences if a fatal fall later occurs at one of your projects.

Example #3:  Business Owner Sentenced To 2 Years In Jail After Fatalities

Boston area court sentenced Kivin Otto, owner of Atlantic Drain Services Company, Inc., to 2 years in prison after a trench collapse in 2016 resulted in the tragic deaths of two employees.

Otto was convicted of two counts of manslaughter, and other charges, including witness intimidation after Otto tried to interfere with the OSHA investigation.

workplace injury liabilities

The local OSHA representative stated: “Employers that display willful disregard for employee safety and/or obstruct, mislead or otherwise interfere with an OSHA inspection will face serious consequences.”  “The court agreed Kevin Otto knew what safeguards were needed and required to protect his employees, yet he chose to ignore his responsibility to provide them. The result was the loss of two men.”

Example #4 Business Owner Sentenced to 3 Years In Prison & $303,000 Fine After Fatality

The owner of an Ohio roofing contracting business, Jim Coon, was sentenced to three years in jail and issued a $303,152 fine after he was found guilty of manslaughter after one of his employees died in a fall due to lack of fall protection.

In addition to safety negligence, Coon failed to provide Workers Compensation insurance.

Typically the maximum prison sentence is 6 months, but given the severe negligence this sentence was much longer.

Business owners who willfully neglect OSHA compliance requirements which lead to the death of an employee face serious criminal consequences, as this case clearly shows.

Example #5: New York Construction Business Owner Faces up to 15 Years in Prison After workplace Fatality

A Bensonhurst, N.Y., construction company owner, has been indicted on manslaughter and other charges following the April 2015 death of Vidal Sanchez-Ramon, his employee at a Coney Island work site. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison.

Sanchez-Ramon was smoothing concrete on the sixth floor of the work site when he reached the edge and fell to his death. He was not wearing a harness, nor was fall protection installed as required by OSHA and the New York City Building Code. This fatal incident followed multiple warnings and citations to Schirripa since 2011 from OSHA and the New York City Department of Buildings for failing to provide effective fall protection.

It is alleged that several days prior to Sanchez-Ramon’s death, Schirripa visited the worksite and saw that the wire cable fence was positioned several feet in from the edge, along one side of the floor. Nevertheless, Schirripa directed that his workers pour and smooth the concrete outside the wire cable fence without harnesses, ultimately leading to Sanchez-Ramon’s death.

“The deaths of Mr. Sanchez and the seven other New York City construction workers in falls in 2015 were all needless and preventable,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Robert Kulick. “This indictment sends a strong message to those employers who would neglect their legal responsibility to provide their employees with safe workplaces and working conditions.”

What can be done?

OSHA health and safety regulations can be overwhelming, especially for small companies who often lack the resources, time and internal expertise needed to keep up.

Unfortunately this is no excuse for failing to manage safety and as these examples show, OSHA has no problem holding small business owners criminally responsible.

The good news is that OSHA compliance is within your reach for companies willing to build and manage a safety program, properly train workers on safety standards, and who take the time to prepare for potential OSHA inspections.

Berg Compliance Solutions specializes in helping small companies manage OSHA compliance and risk and offer a wide range of affordable outsourced turn-key and virtual safety compliance programs to meet any budget and need.

Call 512-457-0374 or Click Here

To Schedule Your Free Consultation

By |2021-08-13T13:53:21-05:00July 17th, 2019|OSHA Texas Laws & Regulations, Safety Training, Texas OSHA Compliance|Comments Off on Business Owner OSHA Criminal Liabilities and Prosecution

About the Author:

How A Sales Guy Transformed Into An Environmental, Health & Safety Expert & Advocate For Small Businesses

I've spent my entire 30+ year career working within the manufacturing and “industrial services” sectors.

The first 15 years of my career focused on sales of hazardous materials related products and services to the manufacturing sector, then for the last 16+ years transitioned into entrepreneurship, founding 3 small industrial services related contracting businesses. As you’ll see below, running these companies eventually lead me to found yet a 4th business, but more on that in a minute….

Here’s a brief description of the first 3 companies:

Berg Environmental Services, Inc.: hazardous waste disposal & transportation services, founded in August of 2003 3rd party wind energy operations & maintenance services provider to utility scale wind farms throughout the US, founded in September 2007 3rd party oil & gas exploration & production services provider, founded in August of 2011

Each of these companies operated in extremely dangerous working conditions and exposed my employees to a wide range of serious health & safety hazards on a daily basis.

To complicate matters, 2 of the companies also exposed the environment to significant potential harm.

In other words, I learned very early the critical importance of managing environmental, health and safety issues so as to ensure the safety of our employees and the environment, as well as minimizing related risks.

But I also learned how incredibly difficult and challenging this endeavor can be due to the wide range of complicated and continually changing environmental, health and safety rules and regulations that impacted the companies.

To summarize the challenges: First I had to determine which regulations applied to each company, then I had to build compliance programs to meet those regulations, and finally I had to ensure that the programs were being managed and followed by our staff on a daily basis.

All while trying to run and grow 3 profitable businesses….

It was overwhelming and I always struggled to keep up.

To make matters worse, throughout this time I also witnessed the devastating price that companies, management and ownership can pay for failing to manage EHS compliance.

This included seeing one of my hazardous waste management clients get sent to jail over environmental issues, another client’s management team threatened with jail time, a direct competitor get fined $378,000 by OSHA fine after an employee was nearly killed, and many others face major fines and penalties.

Full disclosure, one of my companies got fined by OSHA at one point, & another was cited by TCEQ, so I know how it feels.

In summary, I learned first hand how incredibly difficult it is for small companies to manage EHS compliance due to a common lack of the critical expertise, time and resources that are needed to keep up, and how this situation then ends up exposing them to these potentially catastrophic risks that can literally destroy lives and businesses.

This later inspired me to found my 4th company, Berg Compliance Solutions in 2012, which is dedicated to helping other small businesses, and business owners, to manage EHS compliance and risk.

Education

  • BA, Philosophy, University of Colorado, Boulder, December, 1990.

Summary of Professional Experience & Qualifications:

  • 30+ years serving the manufacturing & industrial services sectors
  • 30+ years of sales and marketing experience
  • 16+ years as small business owner & entrepreneur: Founded and operated 4 small businesses since 2003.

Environmental, Health & Safety Compliance & Program Related:

  • 19 plus years of hazardous waste management including EPA, TCEQ & RCRA regulations
  • 8 years of DOT/FMCSA compliance experience, including hazardous materials transportation
  • 8 years of combined experience implementing and managing OSHA health and safety compliance programs for 2 high risk energy services businesses
  • Successfully implemented and gained ISO 9001 Quality Management
  • Certification and OHSAS 18001 (Occupational Health & Safety Advisory Service) Certification for wind energy maintenance business.

Regulatory Enforcement Related Experience:

  • Served as expert witness in criminal environmental compliance enforcement cases
  • Superfund-CERCLA
  • OSHA enforcement inspections, investigations and resolution in following industries: industrial services, manufacturing & construction.
  • TCEQ enforcement inspections, investigations and resolution in manufacturing.