Mass. Panel Urges Jail Time for Worker Safety Failures

October 13, 2006

A legislative panel in Massachusetts is recommending that company officials face criminal charges if they have recklessly failed to protect workers who are killed on construction sites, according to a published report.

The Boston Globe, citing an advance copy of the report, said it will recommend prison time for officials who may not be impressed with the fines assessed now in such cases.

“The prospect of criminal convictions and jail time send a powerful and necessary message to companies that might not be deterred by a fine,” the report says.

The panel has been reviewing worksite safety since a scaffolding collapse in downtown Boston in April killed two construction workers and a passing motorist. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has proposed a $119,000 fine against Bostonian Masonry, the company that employed the scaffold workers, citing safety violations, including one it said was willful.

“Many view the fines that OSHA gives as the cost of doing business. But criminal prosecutions will get their attention where monetary fines can’t,” state Sen. Jarrett Barrios, co-chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security told the Globe.

But one panel member, state Rep. Theodore C. Speliotis, said he opposed the provision for new criminal penalties. “I’m not sure that it’s not already covered by existing laws,” he said.

Eric Fehrnstrom, a spokesman for Gov. Mitt Romney, said the administration agrees that “holding companies deemed to have engaged in ‘reckless’ conduct accountable for their actions is in the best interest of everyone.”

The report also says the state Board of Building Regulations and Standards should adopt new regulations to require regular inspections of worksites with scaffolds. The board has refused to order such inspections, saying a 1994 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling gave jurisdiction for workplace safety to the federal government.

But the report notes that California conducts safety inspections related to scaffolding, and says the Massachusetts court decision does not apply to scaffolds, since they can affect the safety of the general public as well as construction workers.

Fehrnstrom disputed that interpretation, the Globe reported, and also noted that the Legislature has not provided any funding for scaffolding inspections.

The report says lawmakers should increase the number of state safety inspectors and create a safety plan that the state would conduct in cooperation with OSHA, which oversees the state’s workplace safety for employees of private companies. It also recommends a workplace safety plan to cover 350,000 state, county and municipal workers who are not covered by OSHA.

Panel members said they expect their recommendations will be considered by the Legislature next year.


Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.