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December 23, 2003

Stopping Death

It's a basic rule of criminal law-- anyone dies during the commiting of a felony, even if unintentional, and everyone involved faces a murder charge.

But die on the job, no matter the culpability of the employer, and you rarely see any criminal charge. In California, it's different:

Read the whole article for a taste of what can be done if the priorities of our criminal justice system was real, rather than based on fear and racism:

California stands alone in the United States in its willingness to prosecute employers who kill or harm their workers by violating safety laws.

Long before Congress created the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration in 1970, California had its own workplace safety standards, and it is one of 21 states that run their own versions of OSHA. Its powerful labor leaders and big-city district attorneys have long been adept at using headline-grabbing workplace deaths to win ever-stronger enforcement powers for the state agency, known as Cal OSHA.

Under federal law, it is a misdemeanor to commit safety violations that kill workers. The maximum penalty is six months in jail and a $500,000 fine. But after a deadly refinery explosion in 1999, California adopted one of the nation's first laws making that same offense a felony. In California, conviction carries a sentence of up to three years in prison and a $1.5 million fine.

Every workplace death or serious injury in California is investigated with an eye to potential prosecution. That work is done by a special Cal OSHA unit, mostly former police officers, whose members are required by law to refer every death to local prosecutors if there is credible evidence of a deliberate safety violation.

Federal law sets a far more exclusive standard: only the most egregious workplace deaths those caused by an employer's "willful" safety violations can be referred to the Justice Department. But as The New York Times found in an eight-month examination of workplace death in the United States, in even those worst cases, the federal OSHA only rarely seeks prosecution.

If you want a contrast, look at this case where a stupid kid was given three years in federal prison for burning a couple of boat engines (stupidly burning an engine of former President Bush).

Add in the more prevalent non-violent drug offenses prosecuted by the millions and you see a completely skewed justice system that ignores prosecutions that could deter workplace deaths in favor of drug prosecutions that seem to accomplish little or nothing for the public good.

Posted by Nathan at December 23, 2003 06:51 AM