What Violations Can Lead to Imprisonment?
Section 17 discusses penalties for OSHA violations and imprisonment is mentioned in a few subsections. For example:
- Willful violations resulting in death: An employer who knowingly violates standards can receive a fine and/or up to six months in jail. For a second conviction, jail time goes up to one year and/or a fine.
- False statement, representation, or certification in any application, record, report, plan, or other documents etc.: This may happen alone or in conjunction with another violation. "Whoever knowingly makes any false statement, representation, or certification in any application, record, report, plan, or other document filed or required to be maintained pursuant to this Act shall, upon conviction, be punished by a fine of not more than $10,000, or by imprisonment for not more than six months, or by both."
- Giving unauthorized advance notice of inspection: Giving a company an unauthorized heads up about an impending inspection, thereby giving the company time to temporarily fix or hide violations, can lead to a fine and/or up to six months in jail.
In some cases, the District Attorney may use state laws to charge employers with crimes carrying more severe penalties. This can lead to far more jail time than allowed for under the OSHA guidelines.
A Summary of Violations Resulting in Jail Time
Over the last five years, there have been several cases that resulted or may yet result in imprisonment. Here are a few of them:
- August 2019: In Granby, CO, an employer was charged with manslaughter after the 2018 death of an employee in a trench collapse.
- February 2019: A certified OSHA training agent pleaded guilty to submitting false reports and selling fake cards. The cards indicated that the trainees completed safety training when, in fact, they did not.
- October 2016: Two employees drowned after being trapped in a collapsed trench when a hydrant broke. The owner of the company was sentenced to two years in the House of Corrections. The company had two prior OSHA violations; it was also accused of falsifying paperwork to indicate the employees had undergone the required training.
- March 2016: The owner of a roofing company in Pennsylvania was sentenced to 10 months in prison for the 2013 death of an employee. The employer did not provide adequate fall protection, and the employee fell 45 feet. The employer also lied multiple times about providing fall protection.
- April 2015: In New York, a construction foreman was sentenced to one to three years for endangering employees and causing the death of one employee. Despite warnings, the foreman did not maintain safety standards at the work site. He allowed continued digging in unsecured trenches, one of which collapsed and killed the worker.
Although going to jail as a result of an OSHA violation isn't likely, criminal charges in a workplace death resulting from safety violations are an indication of how serious OSHA takes workplace safety—and how serious you should take it, too.