A recent Associated Press article republished by The Oregonian reported that Oregon’s Occupational Safety and Health Division has fined a Salem company and the Oregon Department of Transportation for separate incidents that led to worker deaths. The deaths raise both possible Oregon wrongful death and employment liability law issues but, more immediately, leave open questions about the effectiveness of OSHA’s fines themselves.
According to the news agency, citing the East Oregonian newspaper, OSHA fined a Salem-based concrete company “$840 for not ensuring safe work conditions, which led to the death” of a 64-year old man employed by the company. “The company was installing rumble strips at the paving project on Interstate 84 west of Boardman when (he) was run over by a pickup towing equipment operated by another employee.”
The agency also fined the state transportation agency $3500 over the death of a highway maintenance crew member who was “paving Highway 320 when a dump truck backed up and ran over him.”
The fact that these are workplace safety related incidents raises questions about both wrongful death actions and also possible violations of Oregon’s employment liability laws. These require employers to provide a safe environment for their workers and proper, up-to-date training in the use of all relevant equipment. The bigger question, however, is whether such small fines can really serve as much of a deterrent against future potentially fatal accidents.
As a Portland workplace safety attorney one of my main goals is to help ensure that residents of Oregon and Washington have the on-the-job safety they deserve. Our industrial accident laws offer important protections. The relatively small size of the fines levied by OSHA in the wake of these two accidents is evidence of how essential the civil court system is for workers and their families seeking justice and a fair hearing in the wake of accidents like the ones mentioned here.