Deferred Prosecution Agreement in OSHA Worker Death Case a First

Since the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) more than 40 years ago, there have been more than 400,000 on the job deaths in the United States, but only 80 or so criminal prosecutions for those deaths.

That’s about two worker death criminal prosecutions a year.

But things might be changing.

Word on the street is that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is referring more worker death cases to the Justice Department.

And in a sign of the times, federal prosecutors last week for the first time settled an OSH Act criminal worker death case with a deferred prosecution agreement.

Adams Thermal Systems entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in South Dakota and a civil settlement with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in connection with the death of a worker — Larry Kinzer.

Under the terms of the agreement, the company will pay the worker’s surviving spouse $450,000, a criminal fine of $450,000 and the full OSHA fine of $435,000 stemming from the regulatory violations that caused the fatality and additional violations discovered in subsequent inspections.

OSHA’s investigation found the worker was fatally crushed in a machine used to make radiator cores, after management instructed and authorized workers to bypass the manufacturer’s barrier guard in order to adjust the machine to keep it running.

OSHA also conducted two concurrent safety and health investigations at the company in February 2012, which resulted in 66 violations.

“Adams Thermal failed to provide a safe workplace, and those conditions ultimately took the life of a worker,” said OSHA director Dr. David Michaels. “There is no excuse for an employer to compromise safety to keep production running. The Department of Labor has worked diligently with the Office of the United States Attorney for South Dakota to resolve this case and provide justice to the family of this worker. No one should ever lose their life for a job.”

But under the deferred prosecution agreement, “Adams Thermal shall not be found by the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission to have committed a violation of 29 C.F.R. 1910.212 or 29 C.F.R 1910.147 in a manner characterized as willful or repeated.”

According to a statement of facts filed with the court, Kinzer was crushed between the core press and the header press of a machine known as The Matrix.

The Matrix makes up to 30 radiator cores an hour.

Kinzer was adjusting a fin on a radiator core that was being produced by The Matrix.

According to the statement of facts, “at the time of his death, Mr. Kinzer was inside the barrier guard of of The Matrix, a place that Adams Thermal had instructed and authorized him to be, to perform work authorized by Adams Thermal.”

“To facilitate its employees working inside the barrier guard, Adams Thermal disabled the interlocks on the doors to the barrier guard,” according to the document.

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