• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

Support Our Annual Fund Drive!fund-drive-progress-thermometer

We only shake our readers down two times a year, but when we ask we mean it. So, please, help as much as you can. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Time for a Workplace Homicide Law

“April 2010 was a deadly month.”

“Forty-seven people died.”

“They did not die because they were shot, knifed, drugged, or killed in an armed conflict.”

“They died simply because they went to work and were doing their jobs.”

“From all indications, they died because someone gambled with their lives.”

That’s the opening of a remarkable new law review article written by Jane Barrett titled When Business Conduct Turns Violent: Bringing BP, Massey, and Other Scofflaws to Justice, 48 American Criminal Law Review 287 (2011).

On April 2, a blast at Tesoro Corporation’s oil refinery in Anacortes, Washington took the lives of seven workers.

On April 9th, twenty-nine miners working at the Massey Energy Company Big Branch Mine in West Virginia died in the worst mining accident in the United States in twenty-five years.

And on April 20th, eleven people were killed when the BP Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico – an explosion that injured seventeen others and created an ecological and economic nightmare for the region.

“To date, no actual person has been held accountable for any of these deaths, and, unless there is a seismic change in the government’s response to these types of deadly events, it is fair to wonder if any person ever will be,” Barrett writes in the opening to her article.

Barrett, a former state and federal state prosecutor, currently teaches environmental law at the University of Maryland’s Francis King Carey School of Law.

In the United States, there are very few – a declining number actually – of criminal prosecutions for workplace deaths.

There are a number of reasons for this, not the least of which is that there exist on the books misdemeanor penalties available to prosecutors who want to bring criminal prosecutions for workplace deaths under the Occupational Safety and Health law.

Barrett says we should pass a federal industrial homicide law modeled after the Seaman’s Manslaughter Statute.

“The law says that a captain, an engineer, a pilot or any person employed on a vessel, whose misconduct, negligence or inattention to his or her duties results in a loss of life, can be held accountable for a felony that carriers a ten year prison term,” Barrett said in an interview last week.

“It also covers an owner, inspector, or public officer whose fraud, neglect, connivance or misconduct results in the death of a person.”

Barrett would expand the statute to cover land based businesses.

“Most people think of manslaughter and murder, unless it occurs on federal land or at a federal facility to be the exclusive jurisdiction of the states,” Barrett said. “I suggest in the article that we take the Seaman’s Manslaughter Statute and find ways to expand it.”

Are you calling for the equivalent of an industrial homicide statute?

“The issue needs to be explored,” Barrett said. “What we have now is not working. The Seaman’s Manslaughter Act gives us a blueprint. We need to figure out how to bring the criminal provisions of OSHA into the 21st century. That is something that needs to be done.”

“You have to find a way to distinguish between violating paper laws and causing someone’s death. But we can do that in how we draft the statute.”

You would draft it to cover deaths on the job?

“Yes,” Barrett said. “I propose in my paper graduated penalties depending on the mens rea of the defendants.”

“And I propose it be enacted for land based facilities.”

“If someone knowingly and intentionally decides not to spend the money to repair this tank because they want to push this cost off to the next quarter, and that tank ends up exploding because they didn’t do the maintenance and that explosion ends up killing someone, the person who made that decision should be held accountable.”

(For a complete transcript of the Interview with Jane Barret, see 25 Corporate Crime Reporter 44(12), November 14, 2011, print edition only.)


More articles by:

Russell Mokhiber is the editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter..

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
October 14, 2019
Ann Robertson
Class Struggle is Still the Issue
Mike Miller
Global Climate Strike: From Protest To Power?
Patrick Cockburn
As Turkey Prepares to Slice Through Syria, the US has Cleared a New Breeding Ground for Isis
John Feffer
Trump’s Undeclared State of Emergency
Dean Baker
The Economics and Politics of Financial Transactions Taxes and Wealth Taxes
Jonah Raskin
What Evil Empire?
Nino Pagliccia
The Apotheosis of Emperors
Evaggelos Vallianatos
A Passion for Writing
Basav Sen
The Oil Despots
Brett Wilkins
‘No Friend But the Mountains’: A History of US Betrayal of the Kurds
John Kendall Hawkins
Assange: Enema of the State
Scott Owen
Truth, Justice and Life
Thomas Knapp
“The Grid” is the Problem, Not the Solution
Rob Kall
Republicans Are Going to Remove Trump Soon
Cesar Chelala
Lebanon, Dreamland
Weekend Edition
October 11, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Becky Grant
CounterPunch in Peril?
Anthony DiMaggio
Fake News in Trump’s America
Andrew Levine
Trump’s End Days
Jeffrey St. Clair
High Plains Grifter: the Life and Crimes of George W. Bush
Patrick Cockburn
Kurdish Fighters Always Feared Trump Would be a Treacherous Ally
Paul Street
On the TrumpenLeft and False Equivalence
Dave Lindorff
Sure Trump is ‘Betraying the Kurds!’ But What’s New about That?
Rob Urie
Democrats Impeach Joe Biden, Fiddle as the Planet Burns
Sam Pizzigati
Inequality is Literally Killing Us
Jill Richardson
What Life on the Margins Feels Like
Mitchell Zimmerman
IMPOTUS: Droit de seigneur at Mar-a-Lago
Robert Hunziker
Methane SOS
Lawrence Davidson
Donald Trump, the Christian Warrior
William Hartung – Mandy Smithburger
The Pentagon is Pledging to Reform Itself, Again. It Won’t.
Richard Moser
The Empire Is Running Out of War Stories. Or is it? Will American Exceptionalism Rise Again?
Roger Harris
Why Trump is Facing Impeachment
Doug Lummis
Everything Going Wrong in Okinawa
Ramzy Baroud
Administrative Torture: Free Heba al-Labadi, a Jordanian Citizen in Israeli Prison
Christopher Ketcham
Ode to the Drums of Ginger Baker
W. T. Whitney
Upcoming Elections Represent Testing Time for Bolivia’s Socialist Government
Louis Proyect
Building Soldier Resistance Under the Shadows of Fascism
Mark Ashwill
Reflections on General Giap and the End of an Era in Vietnam
Gabriel Leão
Killing the Messengers: Rising Violence Against Journalists and Indigenous Leaders Defending the Amazon
Graham Peebles
Climate Change: All Talk No Action
Arthur Hoyle
The Meaning of Donald Trump
Dean Baker
Those Quaint Corporate Scandals in Japan
Laura Santina
Take Their Feet Off Our Necks
Julian Vigo
The New Workers’ Revolution is Afoot
Robert Koehler
The Rights of Nature
Dan Bacher
New Report Reveals Oil Waste in CA Aquifers
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail