FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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..

Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
Ted Rall
Why Christine Ford vs. Brett Kavanaugh is a Train Wreck You Can’t Look Away From
Lauren Regan
The Day the Valves Turned: Defending the Pipeline Protesters
Ralph Nader
Questions, Questions Where are the Answers?
Binoy Kampmark
Deplatforming Germaine Greer
Raouf Halaby
It Should Not Be A He Said She Said Verdict
Justin Anderson
Don’t Count the Left Out Just Yet
Robert Koehler
The Accusation That Wouldn’t Go Away
Jim Hightower
Amazon is Making Workers Tweet About How Great It is to Work There
Robby Sherwin
Rabbi, Rabbi, Where For Art Thou Rabbi?
Vern Loomis
Has Something Evil This Way Come?
Steve Baggarly
Disarm Trident Walk Ends in Georgia
Graham Peebles
Priorities of the Time: Peace
Michael Doliner
The Department of Demonization
September 20, 2018
Michael Hudson
Wasting the Lehman Crisis: What Was Not Saved Was the Economy
John Pilger
Hold the Front Page, the Reporters are Missing
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail