Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Worker Safety is a Matter of Life and Death

Some of you may have seen this story the other day during our summer long heat wave: (Via WPP)
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) - The heat index Thursday was in the neighborhood of 115 degrees, but 12 local union workers said they were fired because they were not willing to spend 10 hours in it.

"I have been part of the union for 16 years and I have never seen anything like this, ever," said Randy Lucas.

Lucas said three weeks ago Iron Workers Local 22 signed a contract with Columbus, Ohio-based Columbus Steel Erectors.

The agreement said the crew would work 10 hours a day, 4 days a week. Lucas said because of the heat Wednesday, the group agreed to only work 8 hours.

He said when the workers showed up Thursday at 6:30 a.m., they were told they had been fired.

NewsChannel 18 was kicked off the property, but our camera was rolling as the crew was escorted off the job site.

"Someone is going to have to drop and be taken out in an ambulance before they are going to realize we were right,” said Lucas. “It is too hot."
Days later, in the same state:
COLUMBUS, Ind. -- A southern Indiana man who collapsed while working at a foundry died of a heart attack complicated by extreme heat, the Bartholomew County Coroner's Office said.

Charles Hulse, 50, of North Vernon, collapsed while at his work station at CE Systems Inc. in Columbus on Thursday.

Bartholomew County Chief Deputy Coroner Larry Fisher said Hulse was on medication for hypertension and high cholesterol. He had started feeling overwhelmed by the heat, but had taken a break in a cool room before returning to work.
When people bash things like "regulations" and "unions" in the abstract, they often forget that this is one of the most basic purposes of both collective bargaining and government regulations: To make sure people can go to work every day without worrying that doing their job will kill or maim them.

That's not too much to ask, and these situation are all too common:
In 2009, according to preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4,340 workers were killed on the job—an average of 12 workers every day—and an estimated 50,000 died from occupational diseases. More than 4.1 million work-related injuries and illnesses were reported, but this number understates the problem. The true toll of job injuries is two to three times greater—about 8 million to12 million job injuries and illnesses each year.
If those numbers seem high, it's because it's not in the company's financial interest to care if their employees are dying at their workplace:
The number of workplace inspectors is woefully inadequate. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the state OSHA plans have a total of 2,218 inspectors (925 federal and 1,293 state inspectors) to inspect the 8 million workplaces under the OSH Act’s jurisdiction. Federal OSHA can inspect workplaces on average once every 129 years; the state OSHA plans can inspect them once every 67 years. The current level of federal and state OSHA inspectors provides one inspector for every 57,984 workers.

OSHA penalties are too low to deter violations. The average penalty for a serious violation of the law in FY 2010 was $1,052 for federal OSHA and $858 for the state plans. Even in cases of worker fatalities, penalties are incredibly weak. For FY 2010, the median initial total penalty in fatality cases investigated by federal OSHA was $7,000, with a median penalty after settlement of $5,600. For the OSHA state plans, the initial median total penalty was $5,188, reduced to $4,543 after settlement. Oregon had the lowest median current penalty for fatality investigations, with $1,500 in penalties assessed, followed by Wyoming ($2,063) and Kentucky ($2,275). New Hampshire had the highest median current penalty ($142,000), followed by Minnesota ($26,050) and Missouri ($21,000).

Criminal penalties under the OSHA law are weak. They are limited to cases in which a willful violation results in a worker death and are misdemeanors. Since 1970, only 84 cases have been prosecuted, with defendants serving a total of 89 months in jail. During this time there were more than 360,000 worker deaths. By comparison, in FY 2010 there were 346 criminal enforcement cases initiated under federal environmental laws and 289 defendants charged, resulting in 72 years of jail time and $41 million in penalties—more cases, fines and jail time in one year than during OSHA’s entire history.

Eight years of neglect and inaction by the Bush administration seriously eroded safety and health protections. Standards were repealed, withdrawn or blocked. Major hazards were not addressed. The job safety budget was cut. Voluntary compliance replaced strong enforcement. In the absence of strong government oversight and enforcement, many employers cut back their workplace safety and health efforts.
As long as the penalties remain negligible and workers are routinely denied the right to collectively negotiate their working conditions, it's hard to see this situation getting any better.

No comments:

Post a Comment