Jan. 25, 2017 By Hannah Wulkan
A Jackson Heights politician aims to raise the penalties on employers who put their workers safety at risk.
Assembly Member Francisco Moya unveiled legislation last week that aims to make workplaces safer by punishing employers with hefty fines if they foster unsafe work environments.
Moya claimed that since Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1971, there have been more than 400,000 workplace deaths. Despite the big number, he said less than 80 employers have been criminally prosecuted, and only about a dozen actually criminally convicted.
OSHA conducts ongoing inspections of construction sites, factories and other places of employment to make sure workers are safe. However, Moya says, it lacks the resources to inspect every workplace. It would take OSHA inspectors 139 years to inspect all of them, he added.
When OSHA does discover a workplace violation, the fines are often very low, he said. In 2013, the average fine for a serious OSHA violation was $1,895, and the median penalty for a workplace fatality was $5,600.
“Until we change the environment where construction site deaths can be written off as a minor cost of doing business, nothing will change and dozens more workers will needlessly lose their lives. These deaths are entirely preventable,” Moya said.
“We know that all it takes to save a life is adherence to the safety protocols already established by existing rules and regulations. Lives are lost when those protocols are carelessly ignored. Negligence is inexcusable and it is time our penal system reflects that,” he added.
Moya’s bill would amend the penal code to provide a new path to prosecute against an employer disregarding the safety laws and regulations.
Under the new legislation, employers could be slapped with a class A misdemeanor if they directly exposed an employee to risk of bodily injury, which would carry a potential sentence of $25,000. Employers could be charged with a class E felony with $50,000 in fines if their conduct directly resulted in serious physical injury, or a class D felony if it resulted in that worker’s death.
“In New York City alone over the past two years we’ve seen 30 deaths, 27 of which have occurred on non-union construction sites” said Vincent Alvarez, President of the New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO. “If the loss of 30 lives does not constitute a crisis, I don’t know what does. Common sense action like this proposed New York State legislation would assist in protecting workers and addressing this crisis of workplace safety.”
“The time for half measures is over. Employers must realize that if they continue to risk the lives of their workers, they will face prosecution. Workers who are merely trying to put food on the table for their families should not have to worry about the possibility of never making it home,” added newly elected Assembly Member Brian Barnwell.