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DOL stepping up enforcement action in 2017

Workplace accidents claimed the lives of 4,836 workers in New Jersey and other U.S. states in 2015, and on-the-job accidents or toxic working conditions left a further 3 million American workers either sick or injured according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Workplace safety in the United States is largely the purview of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, but the Solicitor of the U.S. Department of Labor is also heavily involved.

The solicitor's office helps to develop new regulations, encourages alternative approaches to dispute resolution and enforces federal laws like the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the deputy solicitor of labor recently said that enforcement efforts would be stepped up as 2017 unfolds. She was speaking before attorneys at a meeting of the American Bar Association on March 8, and she said that her office would be paying particular attention to persistent violators. In recent years, companies with poor safety records have been ordered to pay as much as $500,000 for a single offense.

The deputy solicitor of labor also encouraged employers to participate in voluntary workplace safety and training workshops offered by OSHA. The agency enforces 21 whistleblower laws and receives about 3,000 complaints from whistleblowers each year, and investigations into a single violation can broaden in scope when inspectors believe that a company-wide problem may exist.

In addition to possible prosecution under federal laws like the OSH Act, employers may sometimes face personal injury lawsuits when workers are injured due to flagrant violations of workplace safety regulations. Injured workers generally file workers' compensation claims after suffering an on-the-job injury, but attorneys with experience in this area could suggest a personal injury lawsuit in situations involving negligence so severe that it could be seen as a willful intent to cause harm.

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