It is unusual for OSHA enforcement actions to result in criminal convictions, but recently a number of such cases have come to light.
The most unusual one was an extortion racket: a man posing as a workplace safety inspector threatened Los Angeles business owners with fines for bogus violations unless the employers paid him off in cash.
But the problem of OSHA inspector impersonation is not limited to Los Angeles. There have been recent reports from Colorado and Michigan that thieves there are also using the OSHA name in attempts to steal with impunity.
A Washington, D.C., OSHA spokesperson advises business owners with any questions about the identity of an inspector to ask for a second form of identification and to call the area office to confirm the bona fides of the individual.
Using a fake Cal-OSHA inspector''s badge Mark Jackson targeted minority-owned small businesses in the Los Angeles area.
Some business owners complained to the Cal-OSHA office in Anaheim, which notified the police.
A sting operation caught Jackson''s scam on tape. His OSHA disguise now revealed, Jackson pled guilty to burglary on Oct. 31, appropriately enough.
He will serve three years in prison, according to a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County District Attorney.
On Nov. 1 in Michigan, the owner of an underground tank removal company pled guilty to attempted involuntary manslaughter and criminal violations of the Michigan OSHA Act in the 1994 death of an employee.
A spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Consumer and Industry Services (MDCIS) said this was the first time in state history that an owner was held criminally responsible for a workplace fatality.
Edmund Woods admitted in court he was supervising work the day a 6,000-gallon gas tank blew up, killing one and injuring three.
Woods also said he knew the wrong cutting device was being used on the flammable tank -- the device which caused the explosion.
The guilty pleas carry a maximum penalty of $35,000 and five years in prison.
"This case should serve as a reminder to all employers that they are accountable for providing a safe and healthy work environment," said Kath Wilbur, director of MDCIS.
This is a lesson Iri Ward, president of Concept Sciences Inc. (CSI), has just learned.
In a 12-count indictment, federal authorities charged him with violating OSHA standards and ignoring several warnings, including one from a potential customer, that a process for making an explosive cleaning material for computer chips was unsafe.
On Feb. 19, 1999, the CSI plant in Allentown blew up, killing four employees and another man working in an adjacent building.
Ward faces a maximum penalty of 24 months in prison, a $3 million fine, and one year of probation.
by James Nash