DOL announces expansion of worker endangerment initiative

Prosecutors encouraged to consider filing criminal charges

Posted December 21, 2015

In an effort to prevent and deter crimes that put the lives and the health of workers at risk, the Departments of Justice and Labor announced on December 17 a plan to more effectively prosecute such crimes. Under the new plan, the DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices will work with OSHA, Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), and Wage and Hour Division (WHD) to investigate and prosecute worker endangerment violations.

Starting last year, the DOJ and DOL began meetings to explore a joint effort to increase the frequency and effectiveness of criminal prosecutions of worker endangerment violations. This culminated in a decision to consolidate the authorities to pursue worker safety statutes within the Department’s Environment and Natural Resource Division’s Environmental Crimes Section. In in a memo sent on December 17 to all 93 U.S. Attorneys across the country, Deputy Attorney General Yates urged federal prosecutors to work with the Environmental Crimes Section in pursuing worker endangerment violations.

The worker safety statutes generally provide for only misdemeanor penalties. However, prosecutors have now been encouraged to consider utilizing Title 18 and environmental offenses, which often occur in conjunction with worker safety crimes, to enhance penalties and increase deterrence. Statutes included in this plan are the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act), the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, and the Mine Safety and Health Act (MINE Act).

In addition to prosecuting environmental crimes, the Environment and Natural Resources Division has also been strengthening its efforts to pursue civil cases that involve worker safety violations under statutes such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the Toxic Substances Control Act. Violations of a number of provisions under these statutes can have a direct impact on workers tasked with handling dangerous chemicals and other materials, cleaning up spills, and responding to hazardous releases.


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