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Criminal Violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act

An individual who violates the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) may be charged in either a criminal or civil forum. OSHA was enacted to protect workers from unsafe conditions in the workplace.

Criminal Penalties for the Death of an Employee

There are several criminal provisions embodied in OSHA. One criminal provision involves the death of employee. If an employee dies as a result of an employer's OSHA violations, the prosecution may bring criminal charges against the employer. In order for the prosecution to succeed in its action against the employer it must show:
  • The defendant was an employer engaged in a business that affects commerce;
  • The employer violated a standard, rule, order, or regulation under OSHA;
  • The employer's violation of OSHA was willful in nature; and
  • The employer's willful violation of OSHA resulted in the death of the employee.

Elements Elaborated

An employer is defined as an individual engaged in a business affecting commerce that has employees. If an individual is a corporate officer or director, he or she may be deemed an employer within the meaning of OSHA.
The employer must be engaged in business affecting commerce. Any employer in a business that affects commerce, regardless of whether that employer is actually engaged in interstate commerce, is deemed as an employer affecting commerce under OSHA
With respect to the willfulness requirement, the prosecution is not required to show that the employer entertained a specific intent to harm the employee or that the employer's action involved moral turpitude. The prosecution should show that the employer failed to comply with the safety standard under OSHA and the omission or failure to act was done in a voluntary and intentional manner.

Additional Criminal Provisions

First, it is unlawful for an employer to be indifferent to general safety or a specific hazard. Second, it is unlawful for an individual to give advance notice of an inspection to be conducted under OSHA. Third, it is unlawful for any individual to knowingly make a false statement or representation required to be filed or maintained under OSHA.