Indiana Lawmaker Aims to Put Employers Who Ignore Safety in Jail

December 21, 2005

An Indiana state lawmaker is drafting a bill he calls “the corporate manslaughter act” which, if passed, would send employers to jail if they ignore on-the-job safety violations that lead to a serious injury or death.

State Rep. Dan Stevenson, D-Highland, knows he faces an uphill battle at the Republican-controlled House and Senate. But Stevenson, who’s been a steelworker for 28 years, said he’s seen safety violations ignored on the job, a practice he calls unacceptable.
He said the fines are too small and maintains that companies have ignored workplace violations in the past.

As an example, he cites the death of steel worker Tony Parker at the former Ispat Inland in 2004. Stevenson said the unsafe conditions that contributed to Parker’s death had been reported on numerous occasions “for several years.”

The Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Division fined the former steel company $8,625 after Parker fell 20 to 25 feet while cleaning steel-making equipment with a jackhammer.

Ispat took responsibility for the accident and said it has corrected all of the problems that led to the accident.

Beth Richards, the widow of Karl Richards, who died nearly a year ago at U.S. Steel, hopes the bill can prevent other families from enduring the pain she and her two children now face.

“I’m here to stop this from happening to other families. Someone has to be held accountable. I just want it to stop and maybe it can start here,” she said.

The bill calls for criminal charges to be filed against employers that would range up to a Class C felony if an employee dies as a result of a knowing or intentional violation of administrative rules. It also calls for stiffer fines to companies.

Penalties would range from up to a year in prison and up to a $5,000 fine for negligence leading to bodily injury to eight years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine if an employee dies as a result of a knowing or intentional violation.

Stevenson’s proposed legislation has the backing of the United Steelworkers union.

Jim Robinson, USW District 7 director, said he intends to use the muscle of the nearly 60,000 steelworkers in Indiana to get the bill approved.

“We’re fighting so people can have a good standard of living and the opportunity to achieve the American dream,” Robinson said.

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