It is rare for corporate executives to face criminal charges because of workplace safety violations. Unfortunately, the unlikelihood of a CEO being charged means that the threat of a criminal case does not prove an effective deterrent to discourage executives from cutting corners when it comes to workplace safety. As one recent case shows, even when a CEO is prosecuted in an egregious case, the penalties that are imposed may be relatively minor in comparison with the extent of harm the executive’s actions caused.
Workers are the ones who suffer when executives fail to follow best practices for safety and allow or even mandate unsafe conditions in the workplace. When a worker is hurt on the job, he needs to talk with a New York workers’ compensation law firm to find out what benefits he or she can receive to minimize the financial losses and damages associated with an injury.
Although it is unusual for a CEO to be charged with a crime, it can happen in some egregious cases. Safety News Alert reported on one recent situation in which the chief executive officer of a coal company, Massey Coal, was brought up on charges. The charges related to the deaths of 29 miners who were killed when an explosion occurred at an Upper Big Branch mine. The explosion was prompted by the fact methane, coal dust, and other flammable gases had accumulated at the mine, as safety precautions were not taken to prevent this accumulation.
The CEO was charged and ultimately found guilty because there was so much evidence of the hands-on role he had played in making decisions on worker safety. He had required progress reports every half hour and strongly encouraged managers to focus only on maximizing the production of coal rather than on making sure the mines were safe. It is unusual for there to be so much proof that a CEO was so involved in day-to-day decisions on operations, which helped to make it possible to prosecute in this case.
Because of the ample evidence in the CEO’s involvement in encouraging safety violations, he was actually convicted when he was tried. While he was acquitted on several charges of financial offenses that had been brought against him, he was found guilty of conspiring to violate mine safety.
Unfortunately, this is a misdemeanor offense. While the CEO received the maximum penalty, he was sentenced only to a year in prison, a year of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. Many safety advocates were upset that the penalties were so light for taking actions that ultimately killed 29 people.
The conviction at least sends a message that CEOs can be held accountable if their failures cause harm. However, the light sentencing may further limit the deterrent effect, since executives know they face a small chance of prosecution and a relatively lenient penalty even when safety risks lead to death.
Workers need to know what their rights are as workplace safety violations continue, and they should consult with a workers’ compensation law firm for help making a claim if they’re harmed on the job. Contact Rosenberg, Minc, Falkoff & Wolff today for help with your case.