The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals last month affirmed a criminal conviction and $500,000 penalty assessed against a construction company accused of failing to follow fall protection rules, leading to the death of an employee. In U.S. v. DNRB, Inc., OSHA accused the employer of willful criminal conduct and assessed the maximum fine permitted under law.
On appeal, the employer contended that the violation was not willful because it had provided fall protection equipment to the employee who was not using it at the time of the accident. The Eight Circuit concluded that providing equipment is insufficient to meet the requirements of the fall protection standard. The employer must make certain that the equipment is actually used. In this case the violation was willful because of a prior fall protection citation, as well as evidence that the deceased employee’s supervisor was aware of his failure to use protective equipment but took no action in response.
Criminal prosecutions for violation of OSHA rules are rare, but the penalties can be severe. In addition to criminal fines against the company, OSHA can pursue prison sentences against company managers or owners personally responsible for willful violations of safety standards.