In another sign that a trend is developing in favor of the criminal prosecution of employers who contribute to workplace deaths through their willful disregard of safety laws, an Indiana state legislator introduced a bill in December that could impose fines of $10,000 and up to eight years in prison.

The most severe penalties would be for Class C felonies – the death of an employee as the result of a knowing or intentional violation of state safety rules or regulations. For negligence leading to bodily injury – a Class A misdemeanor – an employer could get up to a year in prison and a $5,000 fine.

“This legislation is aimed at situations where a safety violation has been in existence for a lengthy period of time, employees or their union have tried to get the company to correct the matter and the company chooses to do nothing about it,” said Representative Dan Stevenson, a Democrat from Highland who introduced the legislation. “Since this attitude seems to be keyed on their belief that the bottom line is more important than the safety of their workers, the only way to get their attention is to make sure they receive prison time and financial penalties for their negligence.”

Stevenson announced the introduction of the Corporate Manslaughter Act at a news conference on December 16. He was supported by representatives from several local unions. Indiana endured a 14.3 percent increase in on-the-job deaths in 2004. Twenty-seven other states also saw a rise in workplace fatalities.

While there is no indication that the legislation will be adopted by the General Assembly, its introduction adds momentum to a series of state court decisions last year that held construction contractors criminally liable when their disregard of safety rules or citations resulted in the death of employees (see States Pursuing Prosecutions against Corporations, Directors). States may be taking more forceful action because federal fines are so small that many employers find it cheaper and more profitable to ignore safety and take their chances on fines.