Magazine article Risk Management

Murder Incorporated

Magazine article Risk Management

Murder Incorporated

Article excerpt

Agents, brokers and risk managers routinely counsel their colleagues on the necessity of maintaining a safe workplace, both for humanitarian reasons and the economic consequences. There may be a more compelling reason for firms to stress workplace safety, though; if one of your employees is killed or seriously injured, it could mean jail time for upper management figures.

Exposing Executive Complicity

The first case in the modern era that put an executive in jail for a workplace fatality occurred at the Film Recovery Systems plant near Chicago in 1983. A Polish immigrant, Stefan Golab, died as a result of breathing cyanide gas generated by a photographic film recovery operation. The subsequent investigation by the Cook County medical examiner revealed that not only were workers not provided with the appropriate personal protective gear, but that management actively sought to conceal the chemical risks from the non-English speaking workforce. According to an article in the April 2000 American Journal of Public Health, supervisors were ordered to scrape the skull-and-crossbones warning labels from the canisters containing cyanide gas. Further testimony revealed that workers were observed vomiting violently outside the plant as a result of exposure to the toxic fumes.

The district attorney of Cook County secured indictments for murder against five Film Recovery officials. Following the criminal trial and a series of appeals spanning eight years, three of the firm's managers were sentenced to three-year jail terms for manslaughter. This signaled the start of a trend--as the intervening years witnessed increased use of the criminal law as a vehicle for enforcing workplace safety.

In the first case in New York that imposed criminal sanctions for egregious violations of workplace safety, two brothers who ran the Pymm Thermometer Corporation were sentenced to twenty-six weeks in jail, a $10,000 fine and five years probation. They were found guilty of assault with a deadly weapon for knowingly exposing their employees to toxic mercury fumes.

Massachusetts courts handed down two indictments in 1994 and 1995 against the president of Tewksbury Industries for allowing the operation of a front-end loader with defective brakes, resulting in the death of two employees. Similar criminal sanctions have also been sought in California, Texas, Wisconsin, Michigan and Colorado.

To date, however, no incident has been dealt with as harshly as the 1991 fire in a poultry processing plant in Hamlet, North Carolina. …

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