Hazardous Fume and Dust Exposure in the Workplace a Crime?

Oct 17, 2016

As of 2016, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Labor (which includes OSHA) partnered to bring federal charges against companies who expose workers to dangerous materials and carcinogens. Hazardous fume and dust exposure in the workplace is indeed a serious offense.

Man handcuffed for violations of hazardous fume and dust exposure in the workplace


Environmental Protection Laws Facilitate Prosecution

This partnership is to enable prosecutors to use powerful environmental protection laws. With these laws, they can prosecute companies for worker safety violations involving exposure to dangerous substances. This will allow prosecutors working on OSHA worker exposure cases to work with the Environmental Crimes Section of the DOJ to maximize penalties and criminal charges.

In many cases, environmental protection laws are stricter and have stronger punishments than OSHA regulations. Environmental protection has wide public support and considerably more funding than occupational health and safety. There is an entire division of the DOJ that handles environmental crimes. More effectively, these crimes may carry a much heavier fine or more serious criminal charges.

OSHA’s ability to level criminal charges is usually limited to certain situations. This is where an employer willfully and knowingly violates safety standards which cause the death of a worker. These cases can be difficult to prove and even more difficult to prosecute. Under laws regulating environmental crimes, releasing or failing to control any workplace hazard exposure to dangerous substances is a crime. This applies even if the exposure does not result in death or serious injury.

Just like with OSHA fines, the most serious criminal charges will go to employers who repeatedly violate the rules or who fail to correct problems even when they know about them. Bringing in the DOJ and their regulation of environmental laws is likely to affect companies who aren’t following the rules for controlling or cleaning up their hazardous materials.

Identifying Hazardous Fume and Dust in the Workplace

Workplace hazard exposure includes materials such as fumes and dust from many types of industrial processes.  Some examples are welding, plasma or laser cutting, manufacturing of plastics and resins, printing inks and pigments, as well as production of chemicals or fertilizers.

OSHA usually sets exposure limits for employees. Environmental regulations set limits for material release into the environment, regardless of the exposure to individual employees. Under the DOJ, environmental laws can handle hazardous material release amounts inside a facility.

For metalworking facilities, hexavalent chromium, manganese, and other components of cutting and welding fumes are heavily regulated as environmental toxins. Exposing people to these materials, inside or outside, can be an environmental crime. Hexavalent chromium often contaminates drinking water, and it’s a major environmental concern.

For companies that use or produce hazardous dust or fumes, a dust collection system is very important for limiting exposure. The system will not only keep the materials away from workers but also collects them safely and allows you to dispose of them properly. A dust and fume collection system that’s maintained and used correctly is a necessary tool for controlling hazardous airborne particles or fumes. Contact us for more information.