You may recall hearing during filming of Star Wars: The Force Awakens that Harrison Ford broke his leg when he was hit by a heavy hydraulic door. According to an article in People, the U.K.’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which is similar to the U.S.’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), has brought four charges of breaches of health and safety law against Foodles Production Ltd, a London-based subsidiary of the Walt Disney, Co.
The four breaches include that Foodles “didn’t ensure the ‘health, safety, and welfare’ of its employees; that employees were not protected from ‘risks to their health and safety’; that workplace risks were not suitably assessed, and that measures to prevent ‘access to any dangerous part of machinery’ were not taken.”
English Law versus U.S. Law
In the U.K., the HSE has the power to prosecute when it deems a case worthy of prosecution. However, in the U.S. OSHA can refer cases to the Department of Justice (DOJ) to bring a criminal action. A PBS Frontline piece back from 2003, shows that while there have been over 200,000 workplace-related deaths in the U.S., OSHA has only referred 151 cases to the DOJ for criminal prosecution. These don’t even consider workplace-related injuries, only workplace-related deaths. Furthermore, the maximum penalty for companies is simply a “willful violation” of OSHA laws, which is considered a misdemeanor. On top of this, the DOJ has declined to pursue 2/3 of these cases, and only 8 of them have resulted in prison sentences for company officials. On the other hand, English law provides for a criminal offense known as corporate manslaughter, and in 2007 British Parliament broadened the scope of that law in the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007. A bit of a variation on law here between the U.S. and Britain.
OSHA often investigates workplace injuries and safety violations, but you probably wouldn’t hear about OSHA referring Harrison Ford’s workplace injury to the DOJ. However, how this incident is dealt with according to English law compared to U.S. law is some food for thought.
Workplace injuries can be serious and having safety administrations like OSHA and the HSE are extremely important. However, if you have been injured on-the-job it’s important to know you have rights too. You may need to speak with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney in some cases.
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