This was the soundbite nugget from Patricia Smith, solicitor for the U.S. Labor Department, at a hearing of the House Education and Labor Committee last week.

Current law sets the max penalty for a workplace incident in which a worker dies at $7,000 – a fraction of the penalty for serious environmental crimes.

Worker safety must be put on par with environmental safety, said Smith, a former labor commissioner for New York State.

“Most employers want to do the right thing,” Smith said. “But sometimes they need a little nudging. A $7,000 penalty is not a big nudge.”

She said the bill’s criminal penalties “are based on similar provisions in the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, meaning that killing a person will be treated just as seriously as killing a lake.”