The Ohio Attorney General’s Office recently raised the stakes considerably for Ohio companies with regard to worker safety by obtaining criminal indictments from a Butler County grand jury against United Oil Recovery Services Inc., its president, plant manager and environmental health and safety manager in connection with a fatal workplace accident.
The state contends that in June 2008 United Oil’s Middletown, Ohio facility was improperly treating wastewater using sodium hydrosulfide, which caused a chemical reaction that released lethal doses of hydrogen sulfide gas, resulting in the death of a United Oil employee. The coroner’s report determined that the employee died from hydrogen sulfide poisoning.
The company and its environmental health and safety manager now are charged with involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide and environmental violations. The involuntary manslaughter and reckless homicide charges carry penalties of up to five years in prison and a US$10,000 fine. The company president and plant manager are charged with criminal endangering, which carries a penalty of up to 180 days in jail and a US$1,000 fine.
The bringing of such criminal charges as a result of an accidental workplace fatality is highly unusual and may signal a shift in the state's approach to such cases. The risk of criminal charges means that Ohio employers need to pay careful attention to worker health and safety issues, and focus on avoiding workplace accidents to the greatest practical extent. If a workplace accident should occur the risk of criminal enforcement needs to be taken into account in connection with evidence preservation, internal investigations and cooperation with governmental investigators.
Squire Sanders lawyers have extensive experience representing employers in connection with workplace accidents and crisis management. For further information regarding this development or for assistance with any health and safety issues, please contact your principal Squire Sanders lawyer or one of the individuals listed in this Alert.