Workplace Violations Become Environmental Crimes

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced on December 17, in a memorandum from Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates, that DOJ is transferring responsibility for the prosecution of many workplace violations to the Environmental Crimes Section of its Environment and Natural Resources Division.  The stated purpose of the transfer of responsibility is to encourage utilizing Title 18, the federal criminal code, to prosecute environmental offenses arising out of worker safety incidents, in order to enhance penalties and increase deterrence.  The Environmental Crimes Section can utilize prosecutions under such statutes as the Clean Air Act, Resource Conservation & Recovery Act, Toxic Substances Control Act, and others when they may be applicable to the manner in which workers were injured or their safety was compromised.  While the penalties under worker safety and employer liability statutes are often in the misdemeanor category, environmental crimes are often in the felony category and can carry prison terms.

As announced by Ms. Yates, the transfer results from meetings of DOJ and Department of Labor personnel begun last year in an effort to increase the frequency and effectiveness of criminal prosecutions when workers are injured or endangered.  The memo touts as a “signature success” the prosecutions of pipe and equipment manufacturer McWane and its subsidiaries for environmental and labor law violations beginning in 2005.

For more information on worker safety and environmental compliance, contact Steve O’Day.

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