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Dangerous Work
March 31, 2013 5:30 AM   Subscribe

As OSHA Emphasizes Safety, Long-Term Health Risks Fester: “The federal budget for protecting workers is less than half of that set aside for protecting fish and wildlife.″

When workers die: “And nobody called 911″:
The 11-page OSHA memo, dated May 10, 2012, argues that safety breakdowns in the plant warrant criminal prosecution — a rarity in worker death cases.

...

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 is exceptionally weak when it comes to criminal penalties. An employer found to have committed flagrant violations that led to a worker’s death faces, at worst, a misdemeanor punishable by six months in jail.

By comparison, a violation of the Endangered Species Act carries a maximum sentence of one year.
On Its Own, Obama's OSHA Falling Short:
Funding indicates priority and OSHA’s annual budget of $580 million is about how much the Department of Commerce spent on one year of the transition to digital TV.

Nationally, OSHA fields 2,218 inspectors. The International Labor Organization says that for a workforce the size the U.S. has there should be 13,481 inspectors.
posted by enn (21 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
By contrast, OSHA has two dozen pages of regulations just on ladders and stairs.
Ladders and stairs are surprisingly fuckin' dangerous.

Inside the plant, workers improvised ... One, Sonia Richards, arrived with her own respirator, but a manager told her to put it away, saying it was spooking other workers.

I am having a hard time expressing the mixture of anger and contempt I am feeling right now.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:06 AM on March 31, 2013 [5 favorites]


More OSHA-related Issues.
posted by metagnathous at 7:11 AM on March 31, 2013


[A few comments deleted; whether the pictured woman is harming her child by smoking is really a derail.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:30 AM on March 31, 2013


After receiving an anonymous complaint about glue fumes, Beverly Stone, an OSHA inspector, visited a Royale foam cushion plant in Taylorsville in May 2011. She toured the facility, tested the air and then filed a lengthy report.

“Ventilation did not appear to be working properly,” it said, adding that at least 16 workers were breathing dangerous levels of glue fumes.


In this instance, the inspector should not be filing a report. She should be closing the plant. The local fire marshal would have the authority to close the plant if the sprinkler system wasn't working, why doesn't OSHA have the same authority?
posted by superelastic at 8:03 AM on March 31, 2013 [10 favorites]


In this instance, the inspector should not be filing a report. She should be closing the plant.

The reason that OSHA is so reluctant to do this, even in cases where they can, is that if you do that you cost a bunch of people their jobs. Even closing the plant for a week would cost the hourly workers dearly. That's discussed at length in the article, how even the doctor treating these people asked OSHA to fix the problems without closing the plant because he was afraid of what would happen to the workers.
posted by atrazine at 8:12 AM on March 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have a lot of personal experience with (Oregon) OSHA (in my state). They are basically good people who lack tools and resources to do the job that they know they are mandated to do. If I were to draw a Venn diagram, the intersection between the OSHA regulations and actual worker safety would be very small, compared to the areas in each circle that the two do not share. Therefore you can be cited for something that is very unlikely to lead to illness or injury.

My organization has been "inspected" dozens of times, over the years, and, from what I have seen, they do not know the right questions to ask. When we have been cited and fined, the appeals process is very friendly to employers who have been cited. I have never appealed without getting the fine reduced, or the citation withdrawn. It is part of the game, as an employer.

But at the same time, I have a lot of personal respect for the OSHA folks, and wish that the system worked better.
posted by Danf at 8:14 AM on March 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


The reason that OSHA is so reluctant to do this, even in cases where they can, is that if you do that you cost a bunch of people their jobs.

If you close the plant, you also cost the managers their jobs: the ones with the responsibility to run a safe working environment. I would view that as the correct economic incentive to address this problem, and likely to lead to better outcomes overall both from the perspective of worker safety *and* employment.
posted by superelastic at 8:18 AM on March 31, 2013


is that if you do that you cost a bunch of people their jobs.

Too big to fail - too big to jail.
posted by rough ashlar at 8:37 AM on March 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


If you close the plant, you also cost the managers their jobs: the ones with the responsibility to run a safe working environment. I would view that as the correct economic incentive to address this problem, and likely to lead to better outcomes overall both from the perspective of worker safety *and* employment.

More importantly, you cost the owners money and they're the real decision makers here.
posted by atrazine at 8:53 AM on March 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


"There are people lined up out there for jobs,” said John Lyles, a vice president at Franklin, ... “If they start dropping like flies, or something in that order, we can replace them today.”

but just remember disability payments are skyrocketing due to all those workers who say they can't find a job...
posted by ennui.bz at 9:01 AM on March 31, 2013


Nationally, OSHA fields 2,218 inspectors. The International Labor Organization says that for a workforce the size the U.S. has there should be 13,481 inspectors.

Damn. I work for a here-to-be-unnamed Federal agency that also specializes in safety oversight, and that shares some jurisdictional boundaries* with OSHA. We recently doubled the number of inspectors we employ nationally...to 70. I cannot even imagine what we'd be able to get done with a fifth of what OSHA has.

*We may have an MOU or two in the works with them right now.
posted by psoas at 9:11 AM on March 31, 2013


I have worked in a dangerous industry for years. The companies all have an excel spreadsheet with an entry for every lost time accident and every fatality. The one I have seen has over a thousand rows.

More than fifty percent of the rows are motor vehicle accidents. The worst was some stupid bus driver smashed a crew head on into a tractor-trailer while driving drunk and ten guys died.

(The most dangerous member of the animal kingdom is apparently the bee. There were about fifteen animal caused deaths; a grizzly bear, a couple snakebites, and about half of them were bee swarm attacks. N=15 is not a good sample, though.)
posted by bukvich at 9:25 AM on March 31, 2013


The most dangerous member of the animal kingdom is apparently the bee.

Overall, the hymenoptera (bees, wasps, etc) were the most dangerous in the US up until fairly recently, when they were surpassed by white-tail deer. But in the workplace specifically, going by fatalities, the ranking is apparently cattle, horses & mules, insects, birds, deer, dogs, elephants, tigers, hogs, and "other". Langley, et al., Occupational fatalities due to animal-related events [pdf], 12 Wilderness and Environmental Medicine 168 (2001).
posted by jedicus at 10:26 AM on March 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Enforcement Of Penalties Weak In Grain Bin Deaths
Buried In Grain
About 12:45 PM on May 29, 2009, [foreman] Levi Bachmann told Cody Rigsby [17] and another boy to enter Bin 21 to clean it out. Levi Bachmann allowed Cody Rigsby to enter Bin 21 despite knowing that the bucket elevator was not locked out and grain was flowing from the bin. While inside the bin, Cody Rigsby was engulfed by the flowing grain and sucked under where he died of asphyxiation. Despite the efforts of Cody Rigsby's co-workers, they were unable to locate and rescue him. This fatality was preventable and occurred due to the lack of safety and health training, personnel protective and rescue equipment, unsafe work procedures and a lack of on-site emergency responders.

OSHA Fines Assessed
Initial fine:$1,592,500
After appeal: $50,000

posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:40 AM on March 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


The most dangerous member of the animal kingdom is apparently the bee.

And that is why we must destroy them. It's them or us!
posted by homunculus at 10:49 AM on March 31, 2013


I read this the other day and was just sick with anger. "Rub some dirt on it and walk it off," doesn't really cut it when somebody has burns on 80% of their body. How is that not manslaughter due to depraved indifference?
posted by ob1quixote at 12:31 PM on March 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ladders and stairs are surprisingly fuckin' dangerous.

I warned you about stairs, bro.
posted by radwolf76 at 8:30 PM on March 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are two words you never say around your manager in an American factory (at least the one I worked in): "OSHA" and "Union."
posted by bardic at 12:39 AM on April 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


> Even closing the plant for a week would cost the hourly workers dearly.

This seems to be the general purpose answer to every attempt to remedy issues with big business - "they have hostages and they will use them." The law simply can't be enforced "because jobs", "because too big to fail".

So the workers get the appetizing choice: work in a toxic environment with unknown and quite likely seriously negative short-, medium- and long-term health consequences - or starve.

Of course, if we were serious about protecting workers, this would be treated as multiple cases of assault and the business would have two choices - send their management to jail, or pay the worker's salaries while the violation is cleaned up. Paying salaries while the company deals with the consequences of its criminal criminal actions is by the way is the law in every other first world country I'm aware of...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:36 PM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


> How is that not manslaughter due to depraved indifference?

Because the US legal system is profoundly broken and neither political party has the slightest incentive to change it: the brokenness favors the 1%, and a large bloc of rest of America is convinced that if you use the words "worker" and "rights" in the same paragraph that you're a Communist (forget about "union"). If there's a D in the White House, things will be a little less bad, if an R a little more bad, but the trend is monotonically to the bad for workers in America and neither side wants to change that.

OSHA is a part of the Department of Labor, whose $12 billion total budget compares badly to the "Defense" Department's $687 billion budget or the $68.9 billion to fund Homeland Security activities. In other words, the United States considers waging war to be 50 times as important as supporting workers - says it all, really.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:52 PM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


No OSHA Inspections at Texas Plant in 5 Years: Are We Doing Enough to Protect Workplace Safety?
posted by homunculus at 6:37 PM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


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