Indiana: Bill Proposes Prison Time for Employers that Flout Safety Laws

Workplace fatalities resulting from an Indiana employer's stubborn disregard for safety laws will be punishable by up to 8 years in prison and a $10,000 fine if Indiana lawmakers pass a bill sponsored by state Rep. Dan Stevenson.

Stevenson, a Highland, Ind., Democrat, has introduced what he is calling the Corporate Manslaughter Act, which would ratchet up the penalties against employers who fail to correct unsafe working conditions that help cause deaths and serious bodily injuries.

Stevenson's legislation calls for criminal charges to be filed against employers or their agents in certain cases of negligence.

Penalties would range from a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison and a fine up to $5,000 for negligence leading to bodily injury, to a Class C felony punishable by up to 8 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000 if an employee dies as a result of a knowing or intentional violation of administrative rules.

"This legislation is aimed at situations where a safety violation has been in existence for a lengthy period of time, employees or their union have tried to get the company to correct the matter, and the company chooses to do nothing about it," Stevenson said. "The potential for disaster is there, everyone knows about it, yet the employer ignores it. Since this attitude seems to be keyed on their belief that the bottom line is more important than the safety of their workers, the only way to get their attention is to make sure they receive prison time and financial penalties for their negligence."

Stevenson was flanked by regional labor leaders and officials and workers with the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) District 7 when he made the announcement Dec. 16 that he would try to enact the Corporate Manslaughter Act in the Indiana General Assembly's 2006 session, which begins in early January.

He noted that Indiana is one of 27 states that saw an increase in workplace fatalities from 2003 to 2004. Indiana workplace fatalities increased from 132 in 2003 to 153 in 2004.

"The corporate culture has developed a mindset that it is better to address potential safety violations by paying a small fine instead of actively working to correct the problems," Stevenson said. "Through this bill, I want to make employers understand that there are consequences when they show they don't care about keeping their workers safe."

USWA Local 1010 President Tom Hargrove noted that the legislation originated from meetings conducted by local union presidents.

"At my plant, Mittal Steel Indiana Harbor East, we have a joint safety program, and we work together diligently to prevent accidents," Hargrove said. "In a perfect world, this is how it should work, but workers should not have to depend on the goodwill of the bosses for their safety.

"When the money gets short, safety gets short-changed and workers suffer. Management is legally responsible for providing a safe workplace. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 sends management to jail for willfully stealing money by cooking the books. We need to hold that same management accountable for a willful violation that results in serious injury or death. We feel this level of accountability can be achieved only with the threat of sending management to jail for willful violations."

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