The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a new partnership earlier this month targeted at increasing the number of criminal prosecutions for workplace safety violations. These violations will be pursued under laws aimed at environmental hazards and fraud.

This partnership will likely result in harsher criminal penalties, because while the DOL’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) violations result in misdemeanor convictions and minimal prison terms, violating environmental laws or committing fraud can result in felony convictions and multi-year prison terms.

The DOJ’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) will investigate cases brought by OSHA, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), and the Wage and Hour Division (WHD).

John C. Cruden, Assistant Attorney General for ENRD, stated that his goal is to “Remove the profit from these crimes by vigorously prosecuting employers who break safety and environmental laws at the expense of American workers.”

This sentiment was echoed by Dr. David Michaels, who is the Assistant Secretary for OSHA. He remarked “Every worker has the right to come home safely. While most employers try to do the right thing, we know that strong sanctions are the best tool to ensure that low road employers comply with the law and protect workers lives.”

The DOJ as part of its Worker Endangerment Initiative is also encouraging U.S. attorneys to pursue worker safety cases under statutes such as the Clean Water Act and the Toxic Substances Control Act, as workers dealing with chemical spills and hazardous materials can be directly impacted by these laws.