Legal implications of the Film Recovery Systems case

Many United States company officials in the past have been charged with a crime when a worker died on the job. But their criminal records have said they were guilty of safety violations, not murder. Since OSHA (Occupational Safe- ty and Health Administration) was established as an agency of the US Department of Labor in 1971, it has had the power to recommend that the US Justice Department bring criminal charges against company officials for violations of OSHA safety standards.

If the Justice Department decides to prosecute an OSHA criminal case, it need only prove that there was a willful violation of OSHA safety standards and that the violation resulted in the death of an employee. If convicted, company officials face fines of not more than $10,000 or a six-month prison term, or both. The penalty is doubled after the first conviction.

Violation of an OSHA standard is willful, according to a federal appellate court, ``if done knowingly and purposely by an employer who, having a free will or choice, either intentionally disregards the standard or is plainly indifferent to its requirement.''

OSHA-related criminal charges do not seek to prove intent to murder. The state prosecutor in Illinois did -- and won his case. The question now is whether appellate courts will uphold the convictions.

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