Last month, a New Hampshire court sentenced the owner of a gunpowder manufacturing company to 10-20 years in prison for manslaughter based on workplace safety conditions that led to the deaths of two employees. OSHA concluded that the employees, who had worked for the company for less than one month, hand-fed powder into equipment because the company had failed to adequately train them or to take required safety precautions. This practice led to an explosion that killed the workers.
Following the OSHA investigation, the agency worked with local prosecutors who brought the manslaughter charges based largely on OSHA’s conclusions. In addition to the criminal proceedings, OSHA fined the manufacturer $1.2 million, and obtained an agreement that permanently put the company out of business.
Criminal prosecutions for violation of OSHA safety standards are unusual, and almost always occur in situations involving worker fatalities. Business owners and managers with safety compliance responsibilities can be found criminally liable for failure to follow OSHA rules. While the OSHA statute provides for criminal sanctions, this case demonstrates OSHA’s willingness to coordinate prosecution with local officials for violation of state laws as well.