Last year Patrick Randel, a student at St. John's University,
died working a summer job because his employer violated safety
laws. Patrick died from a lack of oxygen while working in a
manhole. OSHA investigated and found the employer broke three
laws. They failed to:
-- monitor hazardous gases in the manhole,
-- ventilate the tunnel, and
-- have an emergency evacuation system.
Obeying any of these laws would have saved Patrick
Randel's life. But in Minnesota, if an employer knowingly
violates safety laws, the only consequence for the crime is a
small OSHA fine ($3600 for Patrick Randel), even when those
illegal acts kill someone.
Because Patrick was a college student with no dependents, his
family received only $7500 from workers' compensation for funeral
expenses. Nothing else -- nothing for counseling or for any other
expense. If there were student loans, either his family or taxpayers, not the
company that killed him, is stuck with the debt. His parents
received nothing for the death of their only child.
A victim's family has no recourse in the courts. With a
work-related "accident" the workers' compensation
system is their sole remedy.
Aside from the injustice, this system does nothing to make
law-breaking businesses obey safety laws. Businesses reduce costs
by ignoring safety regulations, knowing there are no significant
I introduced Senate File 295 to allow an employee or their
family to go to court if the employer knowingly broke safety laws
and it resulted in injury or death. The legislation is designed
to prevent illegal behavior and to give victims compensation.
Liability insurers would pressure businesses to stop violating
safety laws because of the serious financial consequences.
Without S.F. 295, workers have few remedies when their lives
are put at risk by illegal action of their employer.
This legislation will not harm law-abiding employers, only
those who violate safety rules and regulations. In fact,
responsible businesses will see reduced insurance premiums as
other employers begin complying with safety laws.
Last session the bill was given an informational hearing in
the Senate, but Senators were not given a chance to vote. Some
Senators expressed surprise that they had not heard about issues
like this during years of long, contentious debate over workers'
Unfortunately, this legislation faces an up-hill struggle this
year. It may get mired down in the workers compensation debate.
Only if the news media covers the issue and Minnesota citizens
speak out, will the legislature act.
Prevention of workplace injuries is best for both
employee and employer. This proposal, along with beefed up safety
training and inspections, will prevent other families from going
through a tragedy like that of the Randels.