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DOL vows strict safety enforcement in 2017

Workplace accidents around the country claimed 4,836 lives in 2015 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and a further 3 million workers suffered a nonfatal injury or became sick. The U.S. Department of Labor helps to promote workplace safety by developing regulations and enforcing federal laws like the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and a senior DOL figure said that stricter enforcement would be one of the highest priorities of the solicitor's office in 2017. The comments were made at a March 8 meeting of the American Bar Association in which attorneys from New Jersey were in attendance.

The deputy solicitor of labor suggested that investigators would pay particular attention to repeat offenders, and she pointed out that companies with particularly egregious safety records have been fined as much as $500,000 for jeopardizing the safety of their workers. When violations are discovered during an inspection, investigators will often widen their searches to determine whether or not a company-wide problem exists.

Investigations are often triggered by employee tips or disclosures, and OSHA is responsible for enforcing 21 whistle-blower laws in addition to the OSH Act. The agency handles about 3,000 whistle-blower complaints every year, and the deputy solicitor of labor urged employers to avoid possible sanctions by taking advantage of the many voluntary safety programs offered by OSHA.

When workers are injured while on the job, attorneys with experience in this area may advise them to file a claim for workers' compensation benefits. However, attorneys could recommend that injured workers file a personal injury lawsuit instead when the negligence of their employers was so severe that it amounted to a willful intent to cause harm. While workers' compensation benefits may cover medical expenses and lost income, injured workers who file lawsuits could be awarded punitive damages if successful.

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