19
Apr 2016
By

Coal CEO Gets Maximum Sentence – But is it Enough?

Over the years, a coal company called Massey has received numerous citations and has been fined numerous times for safety violations. The citations and fines did not do anything to prompt the behavior to change. Often, fines and penalties imposed by Occupational Safety and Health Administration aren’t effective at forcing companies to follow safety best practices because the consequences of violations aren’t very severe. It can sometimes make more financial sense for companies to just keep violating the rules and deal with the penalties, especially as OSHA is understaffed and inspections are few and far between.¬†handcuffs-1469317

At Massey, the safety violations eventually had extremely tragic consequences. A buildup of coal dust and flammable gases like methane developed within one of the company’s mines at Upper Big Branch.

An explosion and terrible fire broke out, and 29 coal miners were killed in the incident. Federal authorities became involved at this time, prosecuting the CEO of the company as well as several other executives for their role in the deaths of the miners. The CEO has now been sentenced, but his sentence raises serious questions about whether the laws at any level are set up to provide appropriate protection to workers and appropriate consequences for blatant violations of safety rules.

CEO Faces Maximum Sentence

Safety News Alert reported the CEO received the maximum sentence allowed by law after his conviction based on charges brought by federal prosecutors in connection with the mine explosion. The CEO is the most prominent coal executive ever to face charges, and hearing he received the maximum sentence should seem like good news for worker safety advocates as a harsh sentence on a CEO could serve as a strong message not to put profit before people.

The problem is, the maximum sentence is only one year imprisonment and a fine of $250,000. The CEO will also have a year of supervised probation after serving his prison term.  The sentence is for the crime of one misdemeanor for conspiring to violate mine safety rules.  Prosecutors had also tried to convince a jury to find him guilty of charges related to securities fraud and making false statements. Had he been convicted on fraud charges, he could have faced up to 30 years in prison. Instead, for the conviction for the safety violation, the maximum penalty was just a year.

Many are questioning whether this is enough of a deterrent, or a sufficient punishment for the CEO in this case. Prosecutors show the CEO was a micro-manager who required progress reports every half hour. Evidence also indicates he directly provided instructions which led to cutting corners on safety issues to maximize profits.

Despite the relatively lenient sentencing considering his role in the deaths of 29 people, reports indicate he plans to appeal and hopes to get only a fine and probation for his conviction. He said at his sentencing that he felt sorry for the families but did not believe he had committed a crime with his actions. The minor penalties imposed by law seem to suggest if he did commit a crime, it wasn’t a serious one- despite the devastating consequences of a callous disregard for worker safety.

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