Contributed by Jonathon Hoag
On November 27, 2013, the owner of a gunpowder manufacturing company was sentenced to 10-20 years in prison for a 2010 explosion that killed two workers. The evidence uncovered during the OSHA investigation revealed that the two workers were new on the job and had not been adequately trained. In addition, the workers were hand feeding explosive powders into the equipment because the employer had not instituted certain safety measures for the manufacturing process.
OSHA issued numerous willful violations, including the employer’s failure to train workers, failure to properly store explosives, and failure to provide protective equipment. The company was issued a $1.2 million penalty and the owner was arrested and charged with manslaughter. A jury found the owner guilty of two counts of manslaughter and he was sentenced to serve prison time.
This reported incident serves as a sober reminder of the serious consequences that can result from willful (and inadvertent) violations of safety standards. In addition, employers should keep in mind that OSHA has clearly announced that it has stepped up enforcement measures and is seeking to take punitive action against employers that violate OSHA standards at any level. As such, a comprehensive audit of the company’s safety program should be added to the list of items to review (along with handbooks, policies, procedures, etc.) in preparation for beginning a new calendar year.