Gary was killed on the job at a concrete plant on August 15, 2001. He had been employed there only three months as a cement truck driver and fell 25 feet to his death, from a cement tower, while shoveling gravel off the hopper to clean it.

The company claimed Gary just wandered up there on his own at the end of his driving shift rather than being assigned this unpleasant task because he was the “new man.”

After admitting no wrongdoing, the company paid a $6,000 fine for repeat violations for not posting danger signs at a confined space and not implementing measures to prevent unauthorized entry.

This company had multiple serious violations issued only months before Gary was killed. These were informally settled with reduced fines, through a process called “abatement,” only a few weeks before his death. This process combined with inadequate workers’ compensation laws makes it impossible to hold negligent employers criminally and civilly liable. It is only a misdemeanor to kill a worker by “willfully” violating safety laws. The maximum sentence is six months in jail.

In the past 20 years, 170,000 workplace fatalities occurred but only about 1,700 were considered by OSHA to be due to the “willful” violation of safety laws. Without a “willful” designation it is difficult for prosecutors to make a case that an employer was criminally liable and civil suits pursued by families are not likely to succeed. The percentage of cases being downgraded from “willful” to less serious violations has been rising steadily. In 2001, the year Gary was killed, 60 percent of all cases were downgraded.

Almost 6,000 Americans were killed in workplace accidents in 2002 — twice as many people as were killed on Sept. 11, 2001. Another 50,000 die each year from occupational diseases caused by asbestos, pesticides, solvents and chemicals. OSHA lacks the resources to protect the 100 million workers under its jurisdiction. OSHA’s current budget of $475 million amounts to about $4 per worker. Federal OSHA has only about 900 safety inspectors and can only inspect workplaces on average once every 100 years.