Criminal prosecution of companies where safety violations cause serious injuries or fatalities are rare in the U.S. With that in mind, it’s interesting to note how such cases are handled in another democracy.
In the last seven years, more than 70 plea bargain deals have been cut in Queensland, Australia, between companies with serious workplace accidents and the state government.
The Queensland state government recently settled with an electrical contractor, Stowe Australia. One of its workers was left a paraplegic after a 2007 industrial incident. The worker was helping unload an almost 900-pound switchboard when the equipment fell on him, causing severe spinal injuries.
In exchange for dropping criminal charges, Stowe agreed to make a formal statement of regret, improve its health and safety standards, publish an article on the incident, and provide funding to the Spinal Injuries Association.
For comparison, the trucking company that was transporting the switchboard was prosecuted in court and fined $45,000.
In another case, Sea World was initially prosecuted for a workplace injury case on charges that carried a maximum penalty of two years in prison and more than $1 million in fines. The government withdrew the criminal charges. In exchange, Sea World promised to spend almost $300,000 on safety improvements.
A spokesman for the government defended the settlements, saying they “require the employer to carry out a range of safety measures that extend well beyond the original breach. They are only entered into when the benefits for workers, the industry and the community can be clearly shown.”
The spokesman said the settlements pave the way for “long-lasting and more wide-ranging safety changes.” The government totals the number of safety enhancements at companies due to these settlements at more than $17 million.
What do you think about this method of holding companies responsible for serious injuries and fatalities? Let us know in the Comments Box below.