Canadian Safety Reporter
Jun 16, 2010

Top Obama OHS bureaucrat calls for tougher penalties in U.S.

David Michaels lays out White House health and safety priorities

Employer fines for deaths and injuries in American workplaces need to increase, says U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administrator David Michaels.

Michaels, who joined President Barack Obama’s administration last year, outlined the government’s workplace health and safety priorities before 3,500 occupational safety, health and environmental professionals at the annual American Society of Safety Engineers conference in Baltimore this week.

When it comes to criminal penalties for the loss of workers, Michaels noted his concern.

“Recently a worker died while cleaning a container,” he said. “I believe the employer was slapped with a $175,000 fine. But what gets me is that the same company was fined $10 million dollars for the same incident for causing pollution and negatively hurting the fish and crabs. So how do we tell the family of this worker who died that fish and crabs are worth more than his life?

“We need to fix this,” he told the audience who clapped. “Currently, I believe the maximum sentence for an employer who willfully ignores workplace safety rules and regs and prevention efforts and one of their employees dies on the job, is six months in jail. However, if you harass a burro on federal land you can get a year in jail. Does that make sense?”

He also addressed issues involving work safety in the Gulf of Mexico involving the BP oil spill, ineffectiveness of incentive safety programs, criminal penalties for fatal worker injuries, chemical standards, distracted driving, high state and city worker injury rates and combustible dust.