The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is tasked with ensuring that workplaces in New Jersey and around the country are safe, but about 275 workers still die each day from job-related injuries and illnesses. Critics of the agency claim that manpower shortages and lax oversight are placing American workers in danger, and they cite the far stricter regulations and enforcement in the mining sector as an example that should be followed in all industries.
Mining companies must abide by the provisions of the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act. Underground mines are inspected for safety violations every three months and there is an inspector for every 50 miners. OSHA has one inspector for every 79,000 workers, which means many factories, farms, and construction sites operate with little or no oversight. Miners are also able to refuse to perform work that they consider dangerous. Workers in other fields can face disciplinary action or termination for refusing to perform hazardous tasks unless they can prove an imminent danger.
However, even the mine statute lacks teeth when employers ignore the rules. Mine operators usually face no more than a misdemeanor charge following an accident, and sanctions are usually light even when lives have been lost. Some advocacy groups are calling for Congress to follow the example set by Australian lawmakers and pass a workplace manslaughter law. Mine operators in Queensland can be sent to prison for 20 years for negligence that leads to the death of a miner.
While employers may rarely face criminal sanctions for placing workers in danger, they can be held accountable. Attorneys with experience in workers’ compensation cases could explain that these programs were established to protect workers and shield employers from litigation, but they may also point out that exceptions are made in cases involving gross negligence. This is recklessness so severe that serious injury or death became an inevitable outcome.