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DOL Vows to be Tough on Employers in 2017

Accidents at workplaces around the country killed about 13 workers every day in 2015, and figures from the U.S. Bureau of labor Statistics reveal that a further 3 million workers suffered an injury or became ill while at work. Connecticut employers must abide by workplace safety legislation such as the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the solicitor of the U.S. Department of Labor helps the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to develop new regulations and enforce these laws.

Worker injury and death statistics remain worryingly high despite improvements in safety equipment and training, and the deputy solicitor of labor vowed that enforcement efforts would be stepped up in 2017 when she spoke before a meeting of the American Bar Association on March. 8. She told the assembled attorneys that the scant resources available to her office would be used to go after persistent violators, and she cited cases where fines of up to $500,000 have been assessed. A pattern of violations may be a sign of systemic issues, and investigators are encouraged to broaden their inspections when there are indications that a company-wide problem may exist.

In addition to pursuing violators of the OSH Act, OSHA enforces 21 whistleblower laws. The agency receives about 3,000 whistleblower complaints each year, and many of them are filed by workers who claim that they were retaliated against after revealing unsafe working conditions. The deputy solicitor of labor said that employers could avoid investigations and sanctions by participating in voluntary OSHA safety programs.

Employers may face civil as well as criminal sanctions when they fail to take even basic steps to protect their workers from injury. While workers' compensation benefits may help injured workers to cope financially while they recover, attorneys with experience in this area could recommend filing a personal injury lawsuit instead in certain situations. Workers' compensation laws generally protect companies from accident-related litigation, but exceptions are sometimes made when there is gross negligence on the part of employers.

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