In 2014, a tanker trailer containing waste from oil wells exploded during welding, killing the welder. The tank had not been properly cleaned prior to welding, nor had the welder been properly trained or supervised, according to the US Department of Justice (DOJ) news release on the guilty plea entered by the welder’s employer.
Cover-up Easier to Prove than Underlying Crime
In addition to the welder’s employer, the welder’s supervisor pleaded guilty, although that charge was not for the unsafe conditions but for lying to government investigators about the incident. According to DOJ’s news release on the supervisor’s plea, the supervisor falsely claimed not to have known about the hazards; the supervisor also falsely claimed to have thought the tanks had contained “just water.”
It is often hard for the government to prove that a specific individual within a business organization had criminal intent; proving a person made a false statement during the investigation is usually much easier.
Company’s Plea Agreement Required Payment to Welder’s Estate
Worker’s compensation programs often protect employers from personal injury suits in the event of injuries or death to their employees. That protection does not preclude a court from ordering restitution if the employer pleads to or is found guilty of a crime that caused the injury or death.
In this case, as a condition of its guilty plea, the employer agreed to pay $1.6 million in restitution to the estate of the welder in addition to a $500,000 fine.
To see the news release on the employer’s plea https://www.justice.gov/usao-nd/pr/oilfield-company-sentenced-worker-death-case and on the supervisor’s plea https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/former-oilfield-manager-pleads-guilty-connection-osha-worker-fatality-investigation