Felony for willful safety violations – legislation gaining traction?

August 17th, 2004 by Julie Ferguson

Ron Hayes has worked tirelessly to criminalize willful neglect of federal safety regulations, and some 11 years after he began his quest, legislation that would subject willful violators to felony charges appears to be gaining some traction. We wrote about Ron in April when he was testifying for the Corzine-Kennedy Wrongful Death Accountability Act. That bill was opposed by Commerce Secretary Donald Evans, who called it “just another policy to destroy jobs.” House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said the proposal would be “the worst thing that you could do – telling a small business person that they could go to prison over an OSHA violation.”
The proposed legislation is sponsored by Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., and observers think it may gain some support among Republicans. The Enzi bill caps penalties at an 18-month jail penalty rather than Corzine-Kennedy’s 10-year jail provision. This will bear watching when congress is back in session. Opponents think we should just enforce existing regulations, but that’s unlikely with OSHA growing “kinder and gentler’ with each passing year. Willful and serial safety violators who play fast and loose with workers’ lives violating basic safety standards need to be held accountable, and this accountability requires something more than a slap on the wrist.
Ron Hayes came by the courage of his convictions the hard way. His 19 year-old son was smothered when 60 tons of corn collapsed on him in a silo that he was cleaning for his employer, Showell Farms. Ron had little help from OSHA – in fact, he was stonewalled by the agency – despite the fact that Showell Farms was found to have six “willful violations”.
After losing his son, Ron quit his job as an X-ray technician, and he and his wife turned thier efforts to founding FIGHT – Families in Grief Holding Together to provide mutual support and to work to the prevention of future work deaths. Their motto: Mourn for the dead and fight for the living.
(Thanks to rawblogXport for pointing us to this story.)

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