Water Well Journal

July 2015

Water Well Journal

Issue link: http://read.dmtmag.com/i/529509

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Page 41 of 83

CRIMINAL CHARGES FILED Prosecutions are up against companies whose negligence leads to fatalities. T he dangers and risk of injury should be well known and understood by those involved in water well drilling. But as an owner, supervisor, and employee—are you doing all you should to make sure no one gets injured on the job? The focus on employee health and safety during drilling operations is a continuous process of recognition and control to prevent or eliminate the hazard. Too many times, though, shortcuts are taken and the results can be catastrophic. Over the past decade there has been an increase in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration as well as prosecutors taking criminal action against owners, managers, and supervisors after a fatal incident occurs. Here are some examples of what can happen if negligence resulting in a loss of life is suspected. Fines and jail time News stories about worker health and safety have reported recent legal actions targeting the levy of felony charges to prosecute owners and safety managers for failure to protect the lives of their employees. As a health and safety professional since 1977, I have wit- nessed many unfortunate incidents, including the loss of life, in a variety of industries. As safety and health professionals we try to provide tools, resources, and effective education for the welfare of our em- ployees. We try to generate a team approach that improves, through design, the elimination or prevention of injuries or illness leading to loss of life or a disabled employee. Remaining ever vigilant to the protection of life while working around heavy equipment, such as drill rigs, comes down to some very simple processes. Namely, keeping your eyes on your task and your mind on the work at hand while understanding the hazards in the job. A recent news event highlights the importance of constant vigilance for the safety of our employees. While details of the event are not totally understood, the outcome was the death of an employee who ended up locked inside a large industrial oven. The fatality was investigated by OSHA, and the out- come was a fine for failure to enforce the confined space entry standard. However, the local district attorney has taken a step further and filed felony criminal charges against two employees, the safety manager and the director of operations, holding them accountable for the safety of their employees. Over the past 44 years since OSHA was first enacted, there have been almost 400,000 recorded worker fatalities and esti- mates of at least 50,000 each year who die from health-related exposures. During the first 30 years of enforcement, only about eight fatality cases resulted in felony prosecution of management and owners. Over the past 10 years, there has been an increase in the number of prosecuted cases and state laws enacted that can levy criminal charges against owners and management staff. Changes in the penalties The U.S. Congress introduced changes to the Protecting America's Workers Act in 2013 and again in 2014. The act ex- pands whistleblower protections and requires OSHA to investi- gate all cases of death and serious injuries. The law prohibits any practice discouraging employees from reporting work- related injuries. Most important, the Protecting America's Workers Act gives OSHA greater authority to impose penalties. It subjects corporate officers, as well as other responsible persons, to possible felony charges for willful violations of OSHA rules resulting in an employee death. If convicted, the violation previously carried only a mis- demeanor charge with a penalty of six months for the first offense and up to one year for repeat convictions. But now, a conviction for a fatality as a result of a willful violation has increased to 10 years for the first offense and up to 20 years for repeat convictions. Willful violations that result in serious bodily injury also could be prosecuted as felonies, with imprisonment of up to five years for a first offense and up to 10 years for subsequent convictions. The maximum prison term for knowingly making a false statement, representation, or certification to OSHA would be increased from six months to two years. Civil penalties also would increase under the workers protection law. Serious violation fines rise to a maximum of $12,000 from $7000. Willful violation fines increase to a maximum of $120,000 from $70,000. GARY GANSON, CIH, CSP SAFETY MATTERS Over the past 10 years, there has been an increase in the number of prosecuted cases against owners and management staff. 40 July 2015 WWJ waterwelljournal.com

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