This is an old story, but interesting nonetheless as we consider the issues of workplace  safety and employer negligence. Companies that violate workplace safety rules can face OSHA fines (though these often aren’t harsh enough), but what about criminal penalties. Should employers who create unsafe working environments or who blatantly ignore safety rules be sentenced to hard time when their actions lead to death or serious injury.

A judge in Brooklyn, New York, obviously thinks so:

A Brooklyn judge yesterday sentenced the owners of a construction company to the maximum penalty of six months in prison for causing the death of a worker who was not equipped with a safety harness when he fell from a scaffold in Bushwick.

Tariq Alamgir and Nasir Bhatti begged for mercy, saying they felt tremendous remorse over the death of Mohammed Jabbie, who Alamgir said was “like a brother” to him.

The defendants argued that they had a close relationship with Jabbie and had even paid for his wedding and bought him a car. But the argument didn’t convince the judge that they didn’t deserve jail time in his death.

But those arguments were undercut by the fact that investigators from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration had cited them as recently as [four months before their trial] for defective scaffolding at another work site on Avenue H – and that the defendants have ignored the $34,000 fine.

Federal Judge Nina Gershon also noted that the defendants have never filed a tax return, and that Alamgir’s driver’s license had been suspended 10 times.

“In terms of showing care for their employees, the government wonders why instead of paying for a wedding and an Acura, they didn’t pay for a harness and training that would have ensured the safety of their worker,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Coyne.

Bhatti and Alamgir, who are brothers, operated Metla Construction, whose employees were waterproofing a building at 345 Eldert St. when Jabbie fell 60 feet to his death.

Alamgir lied to OSHA investigators about safety practices.

“I have never lied in my life before this happened,” Alamgir said. “And that only happened because I was devastated and scared by the accident.”

In addition to the jail time, Alamgir was ordered to pay $100,000 restitution to the victim’s family. Bhatti was fined another $100,000. They also are out of the exterior construction business and have sold off their scaffolding.

“It’s a recognition on their part that it’s really not a business they ought to be in,” their lawyer said.