Thousands of workers were killed on the job in 2016, and while statistics, graphs and numerical reports all demonstrate the severity of work-related safety issues, these deaths were not just numbers. The workers had names. The puny penalties and fines imposed on negligent employers do not accurately coincide with the sacrifices the workers, and their families, have made.
Workplace Fatalities Continue to Rise
The rise in workplace fatalities continues to rise in the U.S., despite strict safety standards imposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). In 2016, there were 5,190 workers who died from fatal injuries on the job. That figure represents a seven percent increase over the 4,836 deaths reported in 2015 and the highest jump in workplace fatalities since 2010.
Over the last decade, there were numerous workplace fatalities in a variety of industries:
- In 2008, a middle-aged Walmart employee was trampled to death by a mob of shoppers rushing into the store for a Black Friday Sale on Thanksgiving day. Although fellow workers tried to protect him, he died of asphyxiation. Walmart was fined an insignificant penalty of just $7,000 for his death.
- In 2012, a Bumble Bee employee got trapped inside an oven. The worker received fatal burns and died from his injuries. Two fellow workers were charged with willful safety violations and sentenced to up to three years in prison and $250,000 in fines.
- In 2016, a 61-year-old construction worker was killed while working on a project in Nebraska when a trench collapsed. The worker was one of 37 construction workers killed on the job in collapsed construction trenches and ditches in 2016.
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The Justice Department has attempted to impose steeper penalties for workplace safety violations. The Department of Labor has placed a higher emphasis on criminal penalties for workplace safety violations. Since 2014, they have assisted in the criminal prosecution of 27 work-related fatality cases, the highest number ever.
But criminal prosecutions and charges are rare in cases of work-related fatalities. The average penalty per worker death is between $5,000 and $8,000, a small amount for such grievous events. Recently, a bill was introduced that will make felony charges possible for an employer’s willful and/or repeated safety violations that result in a worker’s death. The bill sets a minimum penalty of $50,000 for an employee death caused by a willful safety violation.