More countries around the globe are introducing jail time and hard consequences for those soft on safety in the workplace. Canada’s laws became stricter in 2004 while a high-profile case in the U.S. comes to trial in July. Cases involving corporate executives in Africa and Europe are also making the news this year.
Canada introduced a provision in its criminal code to hold corporations liable regarding workplace health and safety in response to the deadly Nova Scotia 1992 coal mine explosion that killed 26. The bill imposes serious penalties for violations resulting in injury or death. Criminal negligence penalties have been imposed 9 times in Canada since the 2004 law was enacted.
Karl-Heinz Lilgert was convicted and imprisoned for four years upon the death of two people in a ferry accident in British Columbia in 2006. Lilgert was operating the vessel when he became distracted and did not realize the vessel was off course and ran aground.
Most recently, a Canadian worker was killed on January 18, 2013 from head trauma sustained while working on a forklift without fall protection. Two company directors from New Mex Canada Inc, were given 25 day jail sentences after pleading guilty to safety violations. Upon investigation, several additional OHS violations were found in the warehouse, including failure to provide PPE and lack of training for workers.
In the UK, two individuals were sentenced to jail time after a worker was fatally injured when a trench collapsed in 2010. A construction company executive was convicted of manslaughter and received over 3 years in jail. An OHS consultant also received 9 months jail for his role in drafting work method statements and inspecting the work site. The documents drafted were not relevant to the current work site and during his two site inspections he failed to stop work when dangerous situations arose, as was his duty.
In the U.S., Massey Energy CEO, Don Blankenship, is one of two company directors who will face charges after the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster which killed 29 workers in 2010. Blankenship is believed to have violated safety protocol to increase production. David Hughert, fellow company executive, has already been sentenced to 42 months in prison. Also in the U.S., a 2014 case brought jail time for movie director Randall Miller after he was sentenced to two years when his camera assistant died during filming due to a train accident. Six others were injured.
In light of the expansion of OHS laws to include criminal prosecution of negligent managers, executives, and consultants, companies should focus on workplace safety compliance and accident prevention rather than reactionary measures. Death and injury in work place accidents are the terrible consequence of negligence. In addition to substantial financial cost in terms of fines and damage to company brand and reputation, executives are now facing the harsh reality of jail time for their involvement in negligent safety practices in the workplace.
To keep up to date on the latest in safety, and for a free trial of our safety management software, visit www.myosh.com
By Stacey Wagner