Workplace Safety: The Legal Implications

With over 4,000 workers killed while on the job in 2012, workplace safety is an important issue. Having a non-dangerous work environment is important for the safety of employees and the standing of the company. When workplace safety is not considered a significant factor in a project, everyone involved faces a big risk.The employees, employers, and sometimes the producers of the tools used can be held responsible if anything goes wrong in the work environment. Legal fees, work comp claims, lost costs, and insurance cost all add up when an incident involving workplace safety takes place and goes to court. The safer the environment, the larger the profit margin, which enables more productivity and efficiency within the company.

Workplace Safety | Real Stories

In 2007, Joshua Petrie, a Quicksilver Resources Texas plant operator, was killed by a natural gas explosion while on the job. His widow filed a lawsuit against Quicksilver and the Hanover Compression L.P. (the company that owned the plant before Quicksilver bought it). Because Quicksilver had workers’ comp insurance, it wasn’t responsible for any actual damages. A jury found Hanover 90% responsible for the incident and Quicksilver 10% responsible. Over $82.5 million was awarded to Petrie’s father, wife and three children. The damages were awarded for financial loss of companionship and mental anguish, as well as $25 million in exemplary damages. Because of workplace safety negligence, a life was lost,a family was left grieving, and two companies were negatively affected.

SeaWorld is another company that has had its trouble with workplace safety incidents and violations. In 2010 Dawn Brancheau was killed by a 12,000 lb.orca (killer whale) named Tilikumin front of park guests in 2010. In August 2010, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) handed SeaWorld a willful violation for 75,000 along with an order to abate workplace hazards by keeping trainers away from all orcas. SeaWorld attempted to sue OSHA in fall of 2011, to overturn the citation, but a judge ordered SeaWorld to comply with the safety requirements set by the OSHA.

After inspection and penalties are issued, Safety+Health Magazine found that a significant change does occur amongst companies. Not only do companies have to pay fines, but these penalties and fines can result in loss of jobs for the company and also affect their workplace safety reputation. Companies with a history of violations and penalties also gain a bad reputation. Other businesses are more reluctant to do business with them.

Thursday, April 28 is recognized as World Day for safety and Health at Work. However, employers have to remember to make a safe work environment for their employees every day. Creating a safe workplace isn’t a perk or benefit; it is a state and federal law and thus a requirement.

There are three departments of Labor agencies that have responsibility for the administration and enforcement of laws enacted to protect the safety and health of workers in America: Occupation Safety and Health Administration, Mine Safety and Health Administration, and the Fair Labor Standards Act. Any questions about workplace safety can be referred to through one of these three agencies.

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