The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) just announced a new initiative to prevent and deter crimes that threaten worker safety. The Environmental and Natural Resources Division of the DOJ, which typically focuses on prosecutions and civil actions under various environmental statutes, and U.S. Attorneys will be working with OSHA, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor (DOL) will work together to investigate and prosecute worker endangerment violations.
In addition to clearly bringing more resources to worker safety issues, this initiative, which is documented in a Memorandum of Understanding between DOJ and DOL, will also encourage the bringing of charges under Title 18 and environmental offenses, which provide for much significant fines than the misdemeanor penalties provided for in the worker protection statutes. OSHA's fines are limited by statute, and while they are increasing this year, they are still significant less than fines under other statutes. The announcement noted that DOJ is urging federal prosecutors to work with the Environmental Crimes Unit, and to use worker endangerment provisions of various environmental statutes, or to bring enforcement actions in conjunction with environmental statutes, such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the Toxic Substances Control Act, which have much more significant penalties.