At first glance, the case was no different than many other OSHA fatality investigations. An employee suffered a fatal fall, the employer claimed he had issued fall protection to his employees and this particular employee, for whatever reason, wasn't wearing it when he fell.
OSHA cited Jenkintown, Pa.-based McCullagh Roofing for 10 alleged safety violations - including three willful violations - after its investigation of the fatal accident in which the worker fell 45 feet while performing roofing repairs on a church in Philadelphia.
The willful violations were due to a lack of fall protection for employees performing roofing work as high as 45 feet from the ground level and a lack of fall protection for employees working from a roof bracket scaffold. A willful violation is one committed with intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.
Employers like McCullagh Roofing rarely face criminal charges for workplace health and safetyviolations, even when employees are killed. As Deborah Harris, chief of the Environmental Crimes Section of the Department of Justice noted in a press call today, "Most of these crimes are misdemeanors with a maximum six-month sentence." Already overburdened U.S. Attorneys do not want to spend time on these cases, she added.
However, a new memorandum of understanding between the DOJ and OSHA puts some bite into the bark of criminal charges by moving some statutes - the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Mine Safety and Health Act and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA) - into DOJ's Environment and Natural Resource Division's Environmental Crimes Section, and the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division and the U.S. Attorney's offices will work with OSHA, MSHA and the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division to investigate and prosecute worker endangerment violations.
According to OSHA Administrator Dr. David Michaels, employers like McCullagh now face prison terms of 25 years instead of 6 months if convicted of crimes that contribute to the deaths of employees.
"On an average day in America, 13 workers die on the job, thousands are injured and 150 succumb to diseases they obtained from exposure to carcinogens and other toxic and hazardous substances while they worked," said Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates. "Given the troubling statistics on workplace deaths and injuries, the Department of Justice is redoubling its efforts to hold accountable those who unlawfully jeopardize workers' health and safety."
Roofing company owner James McCullagh was charged with four counts of making false statements, one count of obstruction of justice and one count of willfully violating an OSHA regulation causing death to an employee. On Dec. 9, 2015 he pleaded guilty to all charges.
According to the indictment, McCullagh attempted to cover up his failure to provide fall protection by falsely stating, on four occasions, that he had provided fall protection equipment to his employees. McCullagh told an OSHA compliance officer that his employees had been wearingsafety harnesses tied to an anchor point when he saw them earlier in the day prior to the fall. McCullagh knew that he had not provided fall protection to his employees and none of his employees had safety harnesses or any other form of fall protection. McCullagh also directed other employees to falsely state that they had fall protection, including safety harnesses, on the day of the fall.
McCullagh now faces a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison, plus three years of supervised release, and $1.5 million in fines.
Comment: Nothing but the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.