Are Your Employees Properly Trained to Ensure Their Safety at Work? If Not, Employer Penalties May Not Simply be Fines, but Imprisonment.

Written by Robert G. Brody and Susan M. Westphal on December 18, 2013

Employers in all industries face the problem of training workers and ensuring their safety.  Whether it is preventing burns from the hot oil of the french-fry maker or teaching skills to handle a heightened risk of workplace violence,  employers need to make sure their employees are appropriately trained so the workplace is safe. Without such measures, as one court has ruled, potential fines and monetary payments may not be enough and prison time may be imposed.

In Vermont, an explosion occurred at the Black Mag plant, which made a gun powder substitute. Two recently hired employees, who began work at the plant a month before the blast, apparently were not properly trained in handling the substance and the owner of the facility was negligent in failing to provide appropriate safe guards. When the explosion occurred, the primary owner (and the company’s president and managing member), Craig Sandborn, was not at the factory.  Tragically, the two new employees were killed. According to the prosecutor, Sandborn failed to provide proper operating procedures or conduct hazard analysis, among other things.  In addition, the prosecutor argued that Black Mag employees received no training, and no safety policies or procedures were developed.  After a four-week trial, the jury took less than three hours to convict Sandborn of two counts of manslaughter and two counts of negligent homicide, resulting in 10 to 20 years imprisonment.

While many employers are not involved in packaging or manufacturing hazardous materials, this case should remind employers that criminal sanctions may be levied.  While the threat of OSHA violations should keep employers active in managing dangerous working environments and ensuring proper safety procedures are in place, employers should go further. Performing risk analyses, implementing training (which includes up to date safety measures), and having the right policies and procedures in place may provide some defense for employers that find themselves faced with a criminal indictment.

Brody and Associates regularly advises management on complying with state and federal employment laws including wage and hour laws.  If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at info@brodyandassociates.com or 203.965.0560.

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About the Authors

Robert G. Brody is the founding member of Brody and Associates, LLC. He has been quoted and published in national publications and appears as a guest T.V. commentator on contemporary Labor and Employment issues. Learn More

Susan Westphal has represented employers in employment disputes covering wage and hour claims, discrimination, sexual harassment, retaliation, and employment at will, both in court and before administrative agencies. Learn More »