Management Condemns, Workers Hail OSHA Crackdown
BOSTON (AP) _ Employers whose workers are injured because of safety violations will be tried as criminals under an experimental federal program that businesses complain will weaken them further in a soft economy.
The crackdown begins as federal officials failed to convict a construction company president charged with the death of an employee.
Workers say the spotlight focused on the trial of Michael Pandelena gave important visibility to safety issues, even if he was acquitted. But business representatives complain that they are being singled out unfairly.
″It’s almost like an inquisition,″ said Richard Mastrangelo, senior vice president and general counsel of the Associated Industries of Massachusetts.
″The fact of the matter is that just about every time government acts, it makes it more difficult for employers to employ people.″
Pandelena, president of the now-defunct Mill Road Contractors Inc., was found innocent by a federal jury Tuesday in the electrocution of a 23-year-old worker at a North Andover construction site.
Pandelena said he was forced to close his construction company when insurance companies refused to cover him as a result of the incident.
Before the verdict, federal officials heralded the trial as the cornerstone of their attempts to hold employers criminally accountable for worker deaths.
Despite the courtroom defeat, officials said their crackdown will proceed.
″It raises awareness of the employers that we’re serious,″ said John Miles, regional director of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
On a trial basis beginning this week, OSHA is reducing the red tape that slows the prosecution of employers, Miles said. Pandelena’s case, for instance, came to trial five years after the employee was electrocuted.
OSHA violations normally result in civil, not criminal charges.
″Just the thought of prosecution will make employers pay a lot more attention,″ said Joe Kelleher, business manager and safety coordinator of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1505 in Waltham.
″What we have is company after company willfully exposing their workers to hazardous conditions because all they get is a slap on the wrist″ he said. ″Employers don’t want to be responsible for having a safe workplace.″
But Jean Connaughton, education director of the Association of Builders and Contractors of Massachusetts, said, ″When you put it in perspective, contractors are a good group and their intentions are to do well by their employees.″
She said OSHA should put more of its resources into training programs.