Should the federal government use a plea agreement reached in connection with a Colorado worker’s death as a template for similar cases involving fatalities?
Last week, the company pleaded guilty to criminal charges of “violating OSHA regulations resulting in death.”
As part of a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Colorado and OSHA, Tempel will pay $500,000 for the benefit of the Rigsby’s family. The company is required to pay $430,000 for a structured annuity to benefit the victim’s family. Rigsby’s mother, Virontka Rigsby, will receive $330,000, and each of the teen’s four siblings will receive $25,000 each. Tempel will also set aside $70,000 in certified funds to cover taxes for the family.
The company will pay $50,000 in fines to settle OSHA penalties.
Tempel has agreed to:
- not employ persons under age 18 to work at its grain elevator sites
- provide safety training to new employees as required by OSHA
- provide refresher safety training to its employees twice a year, and
- develop a procedure that includes harnesses and lanyards for employees when they enter bins at any grain elevator.
Tempel will be on probation for five years. If it violates any of the terms of the agreement during that time, it could be liable for a $500,000 fine.
On May 29, 2009, Rigsby and another teen entered a grain bin to clean it out. While they were inside, grain was flowing from the bin. Rigsby was engulfed by the flowing grain and sucked under where his chest was crushed and he died of asphyxiation. His co-workers were unable to locate and rescue him.
OSHA cited a lack of safety training as a major cause of the fatality.
In this case, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Colorado deliberately crafted a sentence that would financially benefit the victim’s family rather than the federal government.
Under usual circumstances, a fine of up to $500,000 would have gone to the U.S. government.
OSHA administrator David Michaels said, “We are pleased to reach this agreement.”
Penalties that don’t go to the government are used by other federal agencies.
EPA has required companies to fund “supplemental environmental projects” (SEPs) as part of settlements with companies that have been cited for environmental violations. SEPs have included development of emergency response plans, renewable energy sources and waste collection programs; restoration of fish in polluted rivers; and installation of new equipment to restrict future pollution by the cited company.
What do you think about the settlement negotiated in this case? Should this type of settlement be used in similar workplace fatality cases? After covering OSHA’s investigation costs, should fines for violations go to programs to improve workplace safety? Let us know what you think in the comments below.