# Sixteen workers are killed a dayNovember 16, 2009 10:52 AM   Subscribe

Sixteen workers are killed a day "Every eight hour workday, two people are killed on the job. Most companies are never prosecuted for negligence, even after repeated warnings that their workers were in danger. Meanwhile, workers who blow the whistle face threats and retaliation at the workplace." In a short video examining several cases of worker deaths, David Uhlmann suggests the sanction for an offense that results in a worker's death should be as great as the sanction for killing a deer out of season.
posted by shetterly (104 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

Lying with statistics.
posted by cavalier at 10:55 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

The math is off.

(1) eight hour work day * (2) deaths per day = (2)workers killed a day.
posted by jefficator at 11:00 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Lying with statistics.

To what does this comment refer?

Personally, I have no problem with strengthening OSHA as this website encourages. Also, I'm pretty sure that most of us would agree that a company that causes/allows a death due to an actual regulatory offense should be penalized a little more than a out-of-season deer hunter.
posted by DU at 11:01 AM on November 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

cavalier, how many workers do you think should be killed each year? And what do you think the actual numbers for worker deaths are?
posted by shetterly at 11:03 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

34% of statistics are made up. 48% of people know that.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:03 AM on November 16, 2009

For context, Wolfram suggests that 285 americans die per hour. While 16 a day are certainly a tragedy, it's a rounding error next to the number of people killed by automobiles and cigarettes every day.
posted by jenkinsEar at 11:04 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I really wanted to like this more. I thought cavalier's link to lying with statistics was snotty - no explanation why this case was a lie.
Since I can't watch the video at work, I searched around the website to find how they leaped from 2 people each 8 hours to 16 per day. Or at least to find where they were justifying anything they were claiming. Which leads me to doubt it's on the video. Best of the web has to be better than a class project which would get a C.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:05 AM on November 16, 2009

jefficator - there are 3 "eight-hour work days" in one day. Three shifts. I don't know how the statistics break down per shift.
posted by muddgirl at 11:05 AM on November 16, 2009

It seems odd to consider the death by negligence of workers as comparable to killing a deer out of season rather than, say, manslaughter.

Then again, it's interesting to me how we routinely excuse violent crime when it takes place in certain contexts. Negligent bosses aren't guilty of manslaughter or murder, they're at worst guilty of violating a safety regulation. Schoolyard bullies aren't guilty of assault and battery, they're just kids. Police brutality isn't assault and bettery, it's just bad people getting what they had coming to them. Dick Cheney got an apology from the guy he shot in the face.

If you're smart enough to put yourself in the right role in the right context, you can exercise your violent and sociopathic tendencies with fairly minor consequences.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:06 AM on November 16, 2009 [8 favorites]

*blink* What? Wow, MetaFilter. I'm shocked. I understand your need for pedantic pickiness about statistics and your general level of skepticism, but if your primary response to systemic skirting of OSHA standards within our Corporatist culture is to suggest that you are being lied to because the math doesn't add up, then you're really missing the point, aren't you?

I've worked in places with rampant OSHA violations, in at-will employment states, where my choice was to make the report and no longer have a job, or keep silent and have food in my stomach. Blue collar America is not a very people-friendly work environment at all.

Having worked in a wide variety of places, I sort of wish that everyone who has never had an industrial job would take a year sabbatical to work in even light industry for a year. Nothing makes you appreciate the invisible workers in the country more than being a cog in an assembly machine. /derail
posted by hippybear at 11:06 AM on November 16, 2009 [20 favorites]

That's only get even more jobs outsourced to China <>
posted by yoHighness at 11:06 AM on November 16, 2009

From Why Did Workplace Deaths Decline in 2008?

Fatal workplace injuries numbered 5,071 last year.
posted by shetterly at 11:08 AM on November 16, 2009

jefficator - there are 3 "eight-hour work days" in one day. Three shifts. I don't know how the statistics break down per shift.

(1) eight-hour work day * (3) shifts per day * (2) deaths per shift = (6) deaths per day.

posted by jefficator at 11:09 AM on November 16, 2009

For context, Wolfram suggests that 285 americans die per hour. While 16 a day are certainly a tragedy, it's a rounding error next to the number of people killed by automobiles and cigarettes every day.

"This bad, preventable thing is not as bad as this other bad thing and therefore who cares" is an abominable sentiment and I am shocked to see it articulated here.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:09 AM on November 16, 2009 [15 favorites]

cavalier, how many workers do you think should be killed each year?

Easy. The presentation drama is my beef here, not greedy capitalists injuring or killing their employees due to skimping on safety.

And what do you think the actual numbers for worker deaths are?

Whatever it is, it should be as close to zero as possible, and it should be approached in a more safety parable kind of way (like their Facebook quip about the lady getting burned potentially due to their employer's negligence), and less with the 96 point yellow label "X WORKERS DEAD TODAY." No easy way to prove it or disprove it, so it gets the audience thinking about how trustworthy the number is, and not at the issue (OHSA - Safety - Capitalist Swine - etc).
posted by cavalier at 11:10 AM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

BLS link above says there were 5657 deaths in 2007, which is almost 16 per day.
posted by ghharr at 11:11 AM on November 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

(1) eight-hour work day * (3) shifts per day * (2) deaths per shift = (6) deaths per day.

YOU ARE EDUCATED STUPID
posted by lumensimus at 11:11 AM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

A total of 5,071 fatal work injuries were recorded in the United States in 2008

That's 13.9 fatalities a day. Probably more during the week and less on weekends.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:12 AM on November 16, 2009

Yeoww, thanks ghharr. So let's say that it's a 365xyear workday season, you're looking at what, 13 deaths a day? 5 days a week 19 deaths a day? Which is a bit misleading cause you probably got chunks of deaths happening all at once (building/vehicle failure) and then some dry days (We have been [3] day(s) out since our last fatal accident).
posted by cavalier at 11:13 AM on November 16, 2009

...it should be as close to zero as possible...

And the way to do that is to nitpick the math in the blurb posted on a website that links to another website that tries to make the case for better safety regulations.
posted by DU at 11:16 AM on November 16, 2009

Easy. The presentation drama is my beef here, not greedy capitalists injuring or killing their employees due to skimping on safety.

This.

The implication of this argument is that people die because of corporate greed and negligence. You are impose the strictest safety standards and protections in the world, and there are still going to be workers who violate them. Worker deaths are not always and only the product of management greed.
posted by jefficator at 11:18 AM on November 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

can impose*
posted by jefficator at 11:19 AM on November 16, 2009

Yes. Because every little bit helps - and ineffective or poorly conceptualized communication damages an effort as opposed to helping an effort.
posted by cavalier at 11:19 AM on November 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

I'm not going to minimize the tragedy for those sixteen (or two, or whatever) families.

But at the risk of sounding callous, I expected this number to be a lot higher. A hundred and fifty million people or so go to work each day and only sixteen meet with a fatal accident due to employer negligence? That's 0.00001%.

I'm pro-workplace safety standards and enforcement. I'm pro-accountability for employers who willfully ignore them. And I'm sorry for those families' losses. But on our societal to-do list this seems to be a fairly insignificant priority based on the numbers. Am I wrong?
posted by Riki tiki at 11:20 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

...there are still going to be workers who violate them.

I see what you did there.
posted by DU at 11:20 AM on November 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

Personally, I have no problem with strengthening OSHA as this website encourages. Also, I'm pretty sure that most of us would agree that a company that causes/allows a death due to an actual regulatory offense should be penalized a little more than a out-of-season deer hunter.

I agree, but I still think that the way they frame it is a little disingenuous. When they say that most companies are never prosecuted, it makes it seem as if those companies are allowing people to be killed because there are no consequences for letting it happen. As far as I know (and correct me if I'm wrong, because I'm not an legal expert), a company could face millions of dollars in civil punitive damages from any kind of employee death.

I think stiffer criminal penalties are probably a good thing, but the 16deathsperday site just throws out a few provocative statements and lists some proposed changes. I would like to see a more in-depth exploration of the issues around how these sorts of deaths happen, and what kinds of changes could make a difference.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:21 AM on November 16, 2009

The implication of this argument is that people die because of corporate greed and negligence. You are impose the strictest safety standards and protections in the world, and there are still going to be workers who violate them. Worker deaths are not always and only the product of management greed.

A worker who willfully violates OSHA safety rules in a workplace dedicated to following those rules can be fired for the safety of that worker and others.. A worker who wishes to follow OSHA safety rules in a workplace which systematically refuses to follow them can only quit his job or suck it up in order to keep food and shelter for his or her family.

In which of these do you think the power structure is more to blame for the death of the worker?
posted by hippybear at 11:22 AM on November 16, 2009 [7 favorites]

What? He introduced an alternative viewpoint right after that period you quoted -- "

jefficator: Worker deaths are not always and only the product of management greed. Which is neither an absolution on the employer nor a 100% castigation on the employee. Less with the axe, more with the reading eh?
posted by cavalier at 11:22 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Or in other words, in 2008, there was an average of 13.89 worker deaths per day, but that's including weekends and holidays. If we take just the 260 or so weekdays, we get an average of almost 20 deaths per day: 19.42.
posted by delmoi at 11:22 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Tits - of course the html quoty part works when all I wanted to do was italicize it. Gr.
posted by cavalier at 11:22 AM on November 16, 2009

jenkinsEar: "While 16 a day are certainly a tragedy, it's a rounding error next to the number of people killed by automobiles and cigarettes every day."

I killed a rounding error the other day, and AskMe helped me dispose of the body!
posted by Plutor at 11:23 AM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

ok, this thread is off to an awful start. I'd like to request that we shift focus back to OSHA violations and the repercussions for violations of same, please.
posted by shmegegge at 11:23 AM on November 16, 2009

A hundred and fifty million people or so go to work each day and only sixteen meet with a fatal accident due to employer negligence? That's 0.00001%.

Now this is how to lie with statistics. You are comparing the wrong data. After all, my magical rock is 100% effective at keeping tigers away, since I've never had a tiger at my house in all the time I've been using the rock.

In order to assess safety regulations, you need to know the number of injuries vs the number of injuries avoided. The absolute number of workers is pretty much irrelevant. How many of those 150 million people sit at desks at all day, with a very minimal baseline chance of falling in a vat of acid?
posted by DU at 11:24 AM on November 16, 2009 [4 favorites]

Yeoww, thanks ghharr. So let's say that it's a 365xyear workday season, you're looking at what, 13 deaths a day?

cavalier, here's how you do the math that you complained about: divide 5657 (the 2007 figures) by 365 (the number of days in a year). The answer: 15.5 per day. Round up because it's .5, and you get 16 a day. So your link to statistics lying would not seem to apply here.
posted by shetterly at 11:25 AM on November 16, 2009

2008. 5071.
posted by cavalier at 11:27 AM on November 16, 2009

I'd be more than happy to enjoy a discussion about OHSA compliance and the poor versus the callous rich, but I think we've pretty much established our positions in this thread as being critical to the presentation utilized by the link rather than the larger issue. Beans, natch.
posted by cavalier at 11:28 AM on November 16, 2009

Pope guilty, I didn't say who cares- I was trying to put the numbers in context. Of the 16 deaths per day reported, I don't see that these are all deaths due to negligence. There are all sorts of ways people die at work, and only a small percentage are likely to be due from bad actions on the case of their employer. At some point we have to try to see if this is a real problem, or just drama.

From reading the legislation that this site is promoting, it seems as though they are trying for some small additional protections for whistleblowers, some small incremental increases in criminal and civil penalties, and one other thing- a mandatory OSHA investigation of all workplace fatalities or serious injuries, with the results turned over to the relatives of the deceased / injured. This sort of looks like a major increase in OSHA's powers, as well as looking like laws explicitly crafted to support a trial lawyer's desire to file a lawsuit. Am I reading this incorrectly? Does OSHA currently investigate all workplace deaths and serious injuries?

FWIW, This seems OK to me- if a company has done something negligent that leads to the death or serious injury of an employee, it's absolutely reasonable to want a governmental agency to investigate it, and a lawyer should certainly sue the pants off of the company.

That said, it still seems like a rare issue, as most workplace deaths are unlikely to be caused by negligence, and are far more likely to be caused by accident, misadventure, and just plain dying.
posted by jenkinsEar at 11:28 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I killed a rounding error the other day, and AskMe helped me dispose of the body!

Dude, your thinking is soooo November 15th. The body never existed, man!
posted by jimmythefish at 11:28 AM on November 16, 2009

Cavalier, the video tells about a woman who was burned to death because a profitable company repeatedly ignored workplace safety rules. And you're arguing that they should change their name every year when the statistics change? Do you refuse to go to restaurants with names like "4th Street" when they move to a location that's not on 4th Street?
posted by shetterly at 11:29 AM on November 16, 2009

But on our societal to-do list this seems to be a fairly insignificant priority based on the numbers. Am I wrong?

Yes, you are wrong.

There is an entire governmental agency, OSHA, which was created in order to make workplaces safer for employees. This isn't a matter of either/or priority management, because one individual is simply too busy to deal with all these issues. This is a matter of lack of true enforcement power, in matters of both oversight (not enough manpower to properly inspect workplaces) and enforcement (the penalties for failure to adhere to the rules are not strict enough.)

It's no secret that in a Corporatist / Capitalist culture, the worker is only valuable to a company as long as his output is maximized at minimal cost to the bottom line. As long as we continue to accept that the welfare of people is worth less than the welfare of the bank account balance, we will find that companies will skimp IN EVERY WAY POSSIBLE to maximize profit. This includes worker safety.

In a country which has a nationwide Amber Alert system where any divorced parent who takes off with their non-custodial children can have their license plate number instantly broadcast over the radio and displayed on electronic signs along every highway, our lack of concern for worker safety and true enforcement of rules and laws already in place is really outrageous.
posted by hippybear at 11:31 AM on November 16, 2009 [4 favorites]

...there are still going to be workers who violate them.

I see what you did there.

The argument seems to hinge on the mental image of innocent humans being sucked into machines that were purposefully installed without safety systems because a company saved a few pennies that way.

In reality, I would wager that a significant percentage of whatever number of deaths do occur daily involve traffic fatalities cause by driver error.
posted by jefficator at 11:32 AM on November 16, 2009

DU, what was my lie? I wasn't making any claim about the effectiveness of safety regulations. My statement was what it was: a vanishingly tiny percentage of people die each day due to negligence in the workplace.

But thank you for generously describing my "150,000,000 people go to work each day" as a statistic.
posted by Riki tiki at 11:33 AM on November 16, 2009

jenkinsEar, a "fatal workplace injury" would not include "just plain dying." Well, unless you just plain died because of a preventable explosion in your workplace.
posted by shetterly at 11:33 AM on November 16, 2009

jefficator: "In reality, I would wager that a significant percentage of whatever number of deaths do occur daily involve traffic fatalities cause by driver error."

I would wager there is not a citation to support this statement.
posted by shmegegge at 11:36 AM on November 16, 2009

Trying to find some facts, I found this nugget:
In an investigative series on workplace deaths, The New York Times last year found 1,242 cases between 1982 and 2002 in which OSHA concluded workers had died because of "willful'' safety violations by employers.
So over 20 years, they have 60 deaths per year where OSHA thinks the company was at least partly to blame for the death. This is less than 1% / year of the workplace deaths above, suggesting that "16 negligence deaths a day" is wildly overstated.

Here's the depressing part:
OSHA sought prosecution on 93 percent of those cases. There were only 11 convictions.
So either OSHA is incompetent, most companies settled out of court, or very few of the places where OSHA found negligence were significantly at fault in the death.
posted by jenkinsEar at 11:37 AM on November 16, 2009

DU, what was my lie?

That's the beauty of lying with statistics. You don't actually make any false statement, yet the place you end up is unrelated to the place you imply you ended up.

For instance: The average depth of the ocean is 4000 meters. Global warming activists would have us believe that the ocean may rise as little as 1 meter. That's only .025%! On our societal to-do list this seems to be a fairly insignificant priority based on the numbers. Am I wrong?
posted by DU at 11:37 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I would wager there is not a citation to support this statement.

Well, since the page itself doesn't include helpful citations, I can't argue with you. I'm just attempting to make sense of data that doesn't seem to add up.
posted by jefficator at 11:39 AM on November 16, 2009

Laurie Taylor did a remarkably good podcast on this subject last week. Here's his thought: "Globally, more people are killed at work each year than are killed in war. Why has corporate crime had a low priority, why has it been so hard to prosecute corporations and will the new crimes of corporate manslaughter and corporate murder make firms more responsible for the crimes they commit?"
posted by boo_radley at 11:39 AM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

hippybear: Yes, you are wrong.

There is an entire governmental agency, OSHA, which was created in order to make workplaces safer for employees.

Well, since I explicitly said "I'm pro-workplace safety standards and enforcement" and "I'm pro-accountability for employers who willfully ignore them" in my comment, I don't think that actually does make me wrong. My point, more clearly stated, is that if we only have 16 negligence deaths per day in this country then our existing regulations seem very near their peak efficacy.

Increasing public mindshare or regulatory funding for workplace safety issues may reduce that number from 16 to 7, but those are limited resources and I would speculate (completely unscientifically) that we could save more lives for our buck on other topics. My exact words were that this seems a "fairly insignificant priority"; not that it's not a priority.
posted by Riki tiki at 11:40 AM on November 16, 2009

The New York Times last year found 1,242 cases between 1982 and 2002 in which OSHA concluded workers had died because of "willful'' safety violations by employers.

So over 20 years, they have 60 deaths per year where OSHA thinks the company was at least partly to blame for the death.

First of all, a "'willful' safety violation" is not the same as a safety violation.

Second of all, the object here is to strengthen safety regulations. That is, there are deaths occurring in the workplace that are are not but should be considered safety violations.
posted by DU at 11:40 AM on November 16, 2009

Shouldn't the goal be to get the number of deaths down to the level of non-work related deaths? (Also not zero).

And does that number include law enforcement, emergency services, or military deaths? Because those are all work-related.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:41 AM on November 16, 2009

A total of 5,071 fatal work injuries were recorded in the United States in 2008

That's 13.9 fatalities a day. Probably more during the week and less on weekends.

Let's be clear - this data is simply the total number of deaths. It is NOT the number of deaths caused by "reckless negligence" on the part of employees. People are right to question the statistics, because it is NOT clear how big a problem we are really dealing with, nor is it clear how much it will cost to address that problem.
posted by taliaferro at 11:42 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

jefficator: The argument seems to hinge on the mental image of innocent humans being sucked into machines that were purposefully installed without safety systems because a company saved a few pennies that way.

What DO you do for work anyway? Ever been in the industrial park in your town for anything other than an office meeting?

Not meaning to put you down personally or insinuate anything about your experience with what you DO do, because I'm sure you're totally awesome at it. But nearly every job that involves making something physical involves hazards and risks to its workers, sometimes from machinery, sometimes from fumes, sometimes from heavy things stacked tall in a warehouse, sometimes from floors which have slippery crap on them. The opportunities for an employer (or shift leader, or whomever) to decide not to shut down the entire line for 15 minutes while that spill is mopped up, or for the ordering guy to forget to stock up on earplugs so the changing room doesn't have any for a day or two, or whatever, these sorts of things happen ALL THE TIME.

And if these tiny things happen because of daily quotas needing to be met, or because installing a vent hood system above the soldering stations would cost more than the business can afford at the moment, or whatever... Well, you can extrapolate from the fact that people go to work in industry every day in conditions which are "casually" harmful to them, and see that it doesn't take a lot for business to start compromising worker safety in much larger ways for the sake of bottom line worldview.
posted by hippybear at 11:43 AM on November 16, 2009

Here's a breakdown of the deaths.

Looks like 40% are "transportation incidents", and a bit more than half of those are what could be called traffic fatalities.
posted by Perplexity at 11:44 AM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

So over 20 years, they have 60 deaths per year where OSHA thinks the company was at least partly to blame for the death. This is less than 1% / year of the workplace deaths above, suggesting that "16 negligence deaths a day" is wildly overstated.

That's the number of investigations OSHA has been able to do. We have a major political party in this country which has made it its business to castrate OSHA and make it impossible to do their job, and as such that OSHA found only 60 deaths a year isn't evidence of anything. If the Reagan, Bush, and Bush administrations hadn't made defunding OSHA a policy priority, OSHA's investigatory results might be useful information.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:47 AM on November 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

Compliance with safety regulations, and the effort to maintain a safe workplace can be looked at as two circles, with about a 30 degree arc of the circumferences intersecting.

I deal with a bunch of OSHA and other regulatory folks and they genuinely care about the safety and well-being of employees.

That said, in my experience, the majority of workplace injuries fall into Darwin territory. Someone was trained to do something and did something else, guards were not in place, protective equipment such as respirators and eyewear, while mandated by the employer, were not worn (see World Trade Center cleanup), or the employee was just doing something stupid.

Compliance is good business, and part of the job for employers is to "sell," with either carrots or sticks, this to employees.
posted by Danf at 11:48 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

DU: The average depth of the ocean is 4000 meters. Global warming activists would have us believe that the ocean may rise as little as 1 meter. That's only .025%! On our societal to-do list this seems to be a fairly insignificant priority based on the numbers. Am I wrong?

Point taken, but so let's answer the question. Yes, you're wrong, but why? Because that one meter will have a disproportionate impact on terrestrial life compared to the other 4,000, in the same way that adding 0.025% to a full glass will have a much different result than adding 0.025% to a half-full glass.

These sixteen deaths, while tragic, are not disproportionately impactful to our society compared to other types of deaths. In an ideal world we could reduce that number to zero without siphoning money away from other worthy causes, but this is not that world. This is the cynical, callous point that I am making and I don't feel I'm being dishonest about making it.
posted by Riki tiki at 11:49 AM on November 16, 2009

Laurie Taylor did a remarkably good podcast on this subject last week. Here's his thought: "Globally, more people are killed at work each year than are killed in war. Why has corporate crime had a low priority, why has it been so hard to prosecute corporations and will the new crimes of corporate manslaughter and corporate murder make firms more responsible for the crimes they commit?"

Unless you know how many people were killed in war last year, this is a meaningless sentence. For example, are peace-keeping missions and "police actions" considered war? Do they count civil wars and internal unrest or only two countries that have officially declared war on one another? If you only count the Russian action into Georgia and our current situations in Afghanistan and Iraq, it seems fairly obvious that more people would be killed at work than in war. Why? Because there are MANY MANY more people who go to work everyday than who go to war every day. And even though the people who go to war every day die at a much higher rate than the people who go to work, it's simple math. I don't mean to be mean, but this is not a very good argument.
posted by taliaferro at 11:53 AM on November 16, 2009

These sixteen deaths, while tragic, are not disproportionately impactful to our society compared to other types of deaths.

Only if you think only in terms of what percentage of deaths that is. The damage to our society done by the fact that the bosses can violate safety regs and cost workers their lives and at most pay an infinitesimal fine is massive and systemic, and does damage to us as a society beyond the deaths it causes.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:53 AM on November 16, 2009

What DO you do for work anyway? Ever been in the industrial park in your town for anything other than an office meeting?

I'm a white-collar worker, as you're clearly implying. But I put myself through college working in light industrial settings, and I grew up on the jobsites of my commercial-construction-supervisor father and grandfather. So I'm poised with two examples of my point.

One of my grandfather's workers was dropped off at work drunk. My grandfather was in his trailer. The drunken fellow climbed scaffolding and fell. He did not survive. You can certainly make the case that the employer should not have allowed a drunk employee to climb scaffolding, and you would be correct. But short of breathalyzer tests every morning, what would you recommend to ensure safety?

In my own experience, I had to bolt through a warehouse to get management when a fellow employee reprimanded for disabling the safety mechanisms on a cardboard baler in order to climb in an retrieve his watch. A If you've seen one of those things, you known it would make short work of crushing a person. That's *why* it has safety mechanisms.

Safety violations are not always the company's fault.

That being said, you make good points and I agree with you: no one ever wanted to miss quotas and shutting down operations to attend to safety issues was an extremely low priority. You are correct. I wish you could concede my point as well.
posted by jefficator at 11:54 AM on November 16, 2009

there are 3 "eight-hour work days" in one day

Damnit, now I'm timecubing. Maybe workplace deaths are the result of educated stupid?
posted by luftmensch at 11:55 AM on November 16, 2009

Wow. That came out screwed up: In my own experience, I had to bolt through a warehouse to get management when a fellow employee disabled the safety mechanisms on a cardboard baler in order to climb in and retrieve his watch.
posted by jefficator at 11:56 AM on November 16, 2009

Increasing public mindshare or regulatory funding for workplace safety issues may reduce that number from 16 to 7, but those are limited resources and I would speculate (completely unscientifically) that we could save more lives for our buck on other topics.

This is an important way to think about questions like this, but whenever I've seen it analyzed this way, it actually turns out that we ought to be spending a lot more on workplace regulations. I think the way you do this is to figure out, based on how much we're spending on safety practices, what the inherent valuation of a human life is. It varies greatly, and we tend to spend the most on avoiding unpredictable, highly catastrophic accidents -- for example, nuclear plant safety (for the people living near the plant) and airplane crashes. I think workplace safety comes out close to the bottom in terms of inherent valuation of human life -- in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, whereas for nuclear plant safety it's many millions.
posted by palliser at 11:58 AM on November 16, 2009

I think one thing that's being overlooked--possibly due to the sniping back and forth about the numbers--is the role that workers' compensation plays in this mess. It seems that one of the site author's biggest beefs is that employers aren't generally the subject of wrongful death or negligent homicide suits as a result of worker deaths. Workers compensation almost certainly has something to do with this.

Workers' compensation was designed as a way to make sure that employees get compensated for injuries at work regardless of who is at fault (indeed, without having to prove fault at all), while employers are protected from wrongful death suits, whose massive damage awards could easily bankrupt them. Everybody gets something. Employees gets paid without having to prove that the employer was negligent, and since most injuries fall into this category, this is a good thing. It even covers situations where the employee was negligent, unless they were drunk or on drugs. As a result, employers pay far more claims than they would otherwise. But the benefit to them is that they don't have nearly as many catastrophic losses, even for situations involving deaths. And because many workplace injuries do involve situations where an employee does something stupid (why is a different question), there's actually an incentive to prevent injuries. The way this is accomplished is by making workers' compensation the exclusive remedy for injuries in the workplace. The employer must pay, and the employee cannot bring a tort suit.

So when someone dies at work, most of the time workers' compensation will step in to pay the family for the death. There are actually rather morbid actuarial tables for how much you get paid for losing a finger, a hand, an eye, etc., up to and including losing your life.

This has two effects.

First, it eliminates most potential litigation about the death. This is why most companies are never "prosecuted" for neglience, though it's not clear whether the site is in a huff about the lack of civil or the lack of criminal prosecution. If it's the former, then the answer is workers' compensation, plain and simple: the WC statute bars such a suit from being prosecuted. If it's the latter, it's because most people who die in the workplace are not actually murdered (obviously, I should think) and the bar for proving negligent homicide is pretty damn high, particularly when you consider that most of these deaths are of engaged in activity which contains a risk that someone might get killed. Gonna be real hard to make those charges stick. So yeah, not going to be much civil prosecution, because it's barred by state law, and not going to be much criminal prosecution, because there usually aren't any actual crimes involved.

Second, because workers' compensation coverage is mandatory for just about every employer, for the unknown but probably large percentage of employee deaths which occur when workers' compensation isn't in place, everyone has an incentive not to deal with it in the courts. Why? Because most employment arrangements without workers' compensation coverage in place are probably breaking the law in at least one way. Many of them probably involve illegal immigrants, who really, really don't want to draw attention to themselves, but even the ones that don't probably involve widespread tax evasion. So you're left with a situation where the legal employees can't prosecute while the illegal ones won't.

This is a problem in and of itself, but it's merely a subset of the broader question of illegal employment. Illegal immigration is related to this, but not the same thing, as under the table deals with legal residents are all too common.

So yeah, we can have a conversation about stronger OSHA enforcement (though there's a good argument to be made against this), I don't think that's really what's going on here.

For a more substantive critique of the site itself, a lot of those ideas are just hogwash. The federal government lacks the ability to extend OSHA to state governments. That's an essential state function, and the Supreme Court would never let Congress get away with it. Just can't happen. Also, workers' compensation statutes already make it illegal to discriminate against employees who report injury or sickness. You can and will get in big trouble for doing that. Finally, giving employees the "right to refuse hazardous work which may kill them" would essentially preclude many jobs from being done at all: mining, demolitions work, construction (don't get me started on how many ways there are to jack yourself up on a construction site), factory work, basically anything that involves operating heavy machinery.

I hate to say it, and I agree that the original complaint has merit, but this is a really dumb series of proposals.
posted by valkyryn at 11:59 AM on November 16, 2009 [6 favorites]

I do concede your point -- that workers can be as much to blame for worker death as employers.

But my corollary to that point, which is that the power structure of the workplace is in favor of the employer not the employee, and that employees who work in a place which is violating safety standards are (I hate this word) victims of others choices while employees who make foolish decisions on their own, I think is also valid, and I'm hoping that is what we would be discussing here.

People make bad decisions and are killed regularly in all realms of life, not just work. But only at work do you have your food and shelter at risk if you refuse to do what those above you insist, and if THEY are making the bad decisions, then the worker can pay the ultimate price for someone else's avoidable and illegal fuckup, and that's morally outrageous to me.

Thanks for your honest and informative answer, BTW. I do appreciate that.
posted by hippybear at 12:01 PM on November 16, 2009

Pope Guilty: Only if you think only in terms of what percentage of deaths that is. The damage to our society done by the fact that the bosses can violate safety regs and cost workers their lives and at most pay an infinitesimal fine is massive and systemic, and does damage to us as a society beyond the deaths it causes.

I agree, and that's part of my personal metric for why we do need regulations and standards and accountability (seriously, I did say that above). But while OSHA may be considered fairly toothless, bosses can still be held to significant civil liability which basically puts a <s> tag around your "at most pay an infinitesimal fine" claim.

Yes, I know there's significant and grossly unethical pressure against whistleblowers, and I know our civil suit system is unwieldy and biased. And believe it or not, I'm also in favor of reforming those problems.

I swear I'm not some neolibertarian stereotype imagining the invisible hand of the free market will protect people in dangerous jobs. I just don't think scaremongering and emotional plays are the right way to approach this issue.

(I think I'll make this my last comment on the matter because I suspect other people are making my points in a much better way)
posted by Riki tiki at 12:05 PM on November 16, 2009

But my corollary to that point, which is that the power structure of the workplace is in favor of the employer not the employee, and that employees who work in a place which is violating safety standards are (I hate this word) victims of others choices while employees who make foolish decisions on their own, I think is also valid, and I'm hoping that is what we would be discussing here.

I will agree with this, largely because I recognize that the set "people most likely to be employed in a dangerous occupation" overlaps dramatically with the set "people on the unfortunate end of existing power structures." Insofar as that is true, I agree protections should be strengthened.

I don't think taking issues with the numbers here is niggling business, though. An immigrant worker who is killed by faulty machinery at a plant is not the same "workplace death" as a train engineer who is texting while on duty.

And I'll conclude with an embarrassing personal anecdote: I worked in a warehouse after college because of how tough the job market was. Despite training to the contrary, I climbed a shelf instead of a ladder. The shelf collapse, I landed on my head, and all of the materials from the shelf fell on top of me. That was totally my fault, but the company had to pay my medical expenses. I felt absolutely awful.
posted by jefficator at 12:08 PM on November 16, 2009

The implication of this argument is that people die because of corporate greed and negligence. You are impose the strictest safety standards and protections in the world, and there are still going to be workers who violate them. Worker deaths are not always and only the product of management greed.
posted by jefficator at 1:18 PM on November 16

I used to do Workers' Comp paperwork for a large company. Sure, accidents were indeed sometimes caused by the bone-headed actions of a worker. That doesn't negate management's responsibility for overseeing their workers. If a worker has a pattern of ignoring safety regulations and their manager has a pattern of ignoring that, who is responsible when the worker gets hurt - or another worker gets hurt because of the negligent worker's irresponsibility. Some of the blame for that has to fall on the manager who did nothing, and on the higher-level management who set up metrics that reward managers for having low numbers of reported safety violations but don't punish them for not reporting safety violations.
posted by joannemerriam at 12:15 PM on November 16, 2009

Things must be getting pretty bad if a public awareness campaign is necessary. I can certainly think of one regional horrific example of safety-related workplace/government collusion that's probably become a standard template for such tragedies in this current desperate climate:
As the Sun pursued the story, the newspaper reported on cozy relationships existing between safety regulators and builders. Angered by the revelations and continuing death toll, workers walked off the job at MGM Mirage's CityCenter, shutting down the largest private commercial development in U.S. history until the contractors agreed to safety improvements.

Twelve workers had died in 18 months. But after the improvements, the deaths stopped. No workers have died since June 2008
.
I'll say this from private lab work experience, enforcement is definitely lacking and consequences of breaking safety laws aren't strong enough to deter management from breaking them.
posted by peppito at 12:19 PM on November 16, 2009

I am not here arguing the numbers. If one takes place and it is your father or mother or child, that is more than enough.

The govt needs to be regulating, preventing, investigating---too often under our bought congress lobbyists have their way and keep all sorts of controls to a minimum (coal industry, for example)...and then the workers themselves...the American worker has by and large turned his back on unions, identifying with management, and it is only through tough union negotiating that better saftey can be put in place and enforced.

A definiition of a whistle blower: someone who sees what ought not be taking place and loses his job because he mentions this travesty in public.
posted by Postroad at 12:32 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I am not here arguing the numbers. If one takes place and it is your father or mother or child, that is more than enough.

If the cost of regulation to prevent a single worker death annually is one billion dollars, then that regulation is not worth it. Period. These policy issues should include a discussion of/examination of the numbers. Resources for addressing problems are finite; allocating those resources in some areas will yield higher benefits than in others.

Things must be getting pretty bad if a public awareness campaign is necessary

This is circular reasoning, or at least backwards. The existence of a public awareness campaign does not mean that a public awareness campaign is necessary.

From shetterly's link, we see that total workplace deaths and the rate of workplace deaths decreased in 2008.
posted by taliaferro at 12:48 PM on November 16, 2009

There are all sorts of ways people die at work, and only a small percentage are likely to be due from bad actions on the case of their employer. At some point we have to try to see if this is a real problem, or just drama.

Speaking of real problem vs. drama...

A couple of years ago, the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board aired a series of 5 controversial tv spots to try and send the message that "There really are no accidents." WARNING: GORY
posted by Kabanos at 12:53 PM on November 16, 2009

Things must be getting pretty bad if a public awareness campaign is necessary

This is circular reasoning, or at least backwards. The existence of a public awareness campaign does not mean that a public awareness campaign is necessary.

No, you just don't know what you're talking about. When a Progessive organization, whose budget is MINISCULE campared to industry's budget for public awareness campaigns, finds it necessary to do a serious public awareness campaign, the problem is more than likely rampant/out of hand because they are necessarily restricted by their small budget to shine the light on the most pressing of issues, usually these involve life or death/ limb issues.
posted by peppito at 12:56 PM on November 16, 2009

The point I'm trying to make peppito is that you are assuming that the organization behind the campaign is infallible in it's ability to identify a problem. I'm saying that that is not the case and that we should look at the underlying data rather than blindly trusting the organization - which by the way loudly proclaims its own innumeracy on its website.

I'm not saying that social injustice doesn't exist in workplaces; I'm saying don't blindly trust people who clearly either don't understand or are willing to manipulate statistics.
posted by taliaferro at 1:06 PM on November 16, 2009

The point I'm trying to make peppito is that you are assuming that the organization behind the campaign is infallible

No, I'm not. That's a defensible number they're stating. You believe they're inaccurately overstating rather than understating, fine, but I'm actually more inclined to believe they are understating because accidents and fatalities due to working conditions are a political issue same as unemployment statistics, same as poverty rates, etc. , there's a greater incentive to under-report by both industry and government officials. It happens often. In my own experience, things only get safer when a situation becomes intolerable/lawsuits get threatened.

I'm not saying that social injustice doesn't exist in workplaces; I'm saying don't blindly trust people who clearly either don't understand or are willing to manipulate statistics.

Ugh, I don't have time to unravel this loaded comment. I can easily say the same to you, be sceptical of the people providing your statistics, they're never as rigorous as you believe, especially when someone's career/political office is riding on the numbers.
posted by peppito at 1:24 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

That said, in my experience, the majority of workplace injuries fall into Darwin territory. Someone was trained to do something and did something else

Danf, that means your trainers or your hiring staff are incompetent. I'm usually amazed at what people are willing to credit as "Darwin territory." If the term has any useful meaning, it should be about stupidity, not ignorance.

From shetterly's link, we see that total workplace deaths and the rate of workplace deaths decreased in 2008.

taliaferro, I hope you also noticed this, from the same link: "There is an old hypothesis in economics, associated with John Shea now of University of Maryland, that accidents reflect labor effort and that declines substantially in recessions."

So you seem to be glad the recession rather than the law has lowered worker deaths by lowering the number of workers.

Even if the change is due to enlightened employers rather than the recession, I don't understand why you think 13.9 deaths per day is cause to celebrate the invisible hand of the market. Either OSHA should be stronger, or it should not. I think when people are being burned to death because companies are maximizing profit, voting for a stronger OSHA makes sense.
posted by shetterly at 1:33 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm kind of interested in what Mefites think about The Hand Formula, a way of determining liability in tort. The formula was established by judge Learned Hand in US v. Carroll Towing Co., and is an often used method of determining what precautions should have been taken when deciding if an injury was due to negligence. (Well, at least some judges use it. Posner is in love with the hand formula, others not so much)

The formula is B>PL, where B is the cost (burden) of taking adequate precaution, P is the probability of injury, and L is the monetary amount of damages sustained due to an injury. If the burden of taking adequate precautions is greater than the (damage suffered) X (probability of occurence), then there is no liability: it was "reasonable" that the defendant did not take that precaution to prevent that injury. The point is that people should have to take reasonable precautions, but don't have to go to extroardinary lengths to prevent injuries that are either going to be minor or super-rare.

So the classic example is building a fence around a baseball field to prevent someone from being hit with a stray ball. A baseball stadium has to build a fence of some height to prevent stray balls from causing injuries due to fly balls. But how high does the wall have to be? To build no wall would mean that you let lots of flys out of the park, with the potential for lots of damages. To build a super-high wall which would never let any ball escape, would be prohibitively expensive. But where do we determine what a proper height, what a "reasonable" precaution would be? The Hand formula would suggest that we could use BPL to determine what a reasonable height would be: the point where adding new height to the wall becomes more expensive than the amount of monetary damages we would have to pay for fly balls the wall would let by. The baseball park would not be liable for damages occuring from fly balls after they have built a wall of that height.

I know this might not be the best possible description of the formula. I also realize it may not be entirely applicable in these employment cases, since EEOC regulations and workman's comp play a role in determining liability in employment situations. However, ever since I learned about this as a 1l, I've been wondering what the Hive Mind thinks of the formula, and I think it's at least useful for framing the conversation as to what types of precautions US employers should be required to take.

So what do you guys think? Is this a fair way of determining what level of precautions employers should take? Do you find it useless?
posted by HabeasCorpus at 1:51 PM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

Cavalier, the video tells about a woman who was burned to death because a profitable company repeatedly ignored workplace safety rules. And you're arguing that they should change their name every year when the statistics change? Do you refuse to go to restaurants with names like "4th Street" when they move to a location that's not on 4th Street?

No.. no.. that's.. that's exactly the opposite of what I'm saying. Their name, the campaign, it's misleading and it hurts their intended mission because it's just throwing a baseless number out there that's not readily believed or conducive -- hell, it's 12-13 shy of the "real" number!

I support the initiative, it's the way they're communicating it which isnt' effective.

But let's ignore this derail because actual conversation is gelling...
posted by cavalier at 1:57 PM on November 16, 2009

Resources for addressing problems are finite; allocating those resources in some areas will yield higher benefits than in others.

Which is why we should simply execute the supervisor every time a worker gets killed on the job. A single bullet is pretty cheap, after all, and can be delivered by any minimally-skilled thug. Granted, you'll have to pay some additional costs in firearm maintenance, thug boots, thug delivery systems and fancy embroidered shoulder patches, but overall I'm pretty sure it would cost less than OSHA.

...plus it gives CEOs the tools to conduct a real cost-benefit analysis -- no confusing actuarial tables, no wonky math, just a nice & tidy personal understanding of risk. Conveniently highlighted by the family photo on their desk.
posted by aramaic at 2:03 PM on November 16, 2009

I'm not saying that social injustice doesn't exist in workplaces; I'm saying don't blindly trust people who clearly either don't understand or are willing to manipulate statistics.

Ugh, I don't have time to unravel this loaded comment. I can easily say the same to you, be sceptical of the people providing your statistics, they're never as rigorous as you believe, especially when someone's career/political office is riding on the numbers.

Also, beware, reality has a well-known Liberal bias.
posted by peppito at 2:05 PM on November 16, 2009

In one of the few sops to the massive sums of money the labour movement has poured into a government largely furthering a neo-liberal agenda, the UK's Labour government finally brought in a corporate manslaughter act that came into force last year. The first prosecution under the new act was brought this summer.
posted by Abiezer at 2:16 PM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

You are impose the strictest safety standards

I don't mean this to make fun or disagree or snark; I just like fortuitous typos.

But every time I see this in the thread I keep hearing that old ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US song. You are impose... impose... impose... you are impose... the strictest safety standards.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:24 PM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

Negligent bosses aren't guilty of manslaughter or murder, they're at worst guilty of violating a safety regulation.

Once in a while, once in a great while, an exception proves the rule:
Warrants were issued on October 19, 1983 for five officials of Film Recovery Systems who were named in indictments charging them with murder and 21 misdemeanor counts of reckless conduct. The five top officers of the metals recovery firm faced unprecedented murder charges in the cyanide poisoning death of an employee who worked in a plant described by Dr. Robert Stein, as "a huge gas chamber."
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:35 PM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

Sure, sure, but no one ever brings up the life-threatening danger of retirement! OVER FOUR THOUSAND DEATHS A DAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ALL RETIRED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
posted by fuq at 2:52 PM on November 16, 2009

I considered both the 365 days year and the "working year" composed of 365-52(sunday)=313 days year

(1) =year , (2) = Deaths (. denotes thousands) , (3) = Average per day (365 days), (4) Average per day (313 days)

(1)---(2)---(3)-(4)
1997 5.579 15 18
1998 5.476 15 17
1999 5.275 14 17
2000 5.237 14 17
2001 4.922 13 16
2002 4.790 13 15
2003 4.623 13 15
2004 4.366 12 14
2005 4.011 11 13
2006 4.140 11 13

Not all accidents are properly categorized so it's likely to be understimated. That doesn't
cound disabling accidents and serious accidents, haven't figured out if it counts only immediate death or death caused by work, but happening some time after the accident.
posted by elpapacito at 2:54 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I worked at a fish processing plant that had a major ammonia leak from their freezer that required a complete evacuation. The foreman tried to make the line crew finish the job on the table before being allowed to leave (while he stood outside the open door in the fresh air), but they eventually refused and left.

Two workers had to be hospitalized. There was no report made to OSHA until our union officers called. Eventually, (months later) an OSHA rep showed up for an inspection, and found over a hundred safety violations in the plant, many of which the union safety committee had been complaining for years at our monthly safety meeting.

No fines, just a warning. So the company made out well by ignoring worker safety, since they put off making the necessary improvements by years. The injuries that had been sustained over those years were immaterial to them.

I believe that our plant was in no way unique.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 3:04 PM on November 16, 2009 [6 favorites]

Workers' compensation was designed as a way to make sure that employees get compensated for injuries at work regardless of who is at fault (indeed, without having to prove fault at all), while employers are protected from wrongful death suits, whose massive damage awards could easily bankrupt them

Last summer the ConAgra plant a mile from my home (where they make Slim Jims) blew up. Three people were crushed to death and another forty two were hospitalized-- some of them badly burned. The cause is still being investigated.
The unfortunate workers, and the families of the 3 workers tragically killed will most likely not have a team of experts working for them. They are too much in shock to think clearly about how to protect their interest and keep incomes coming into the household to support their families.

You can be sure however, that the experts sent in by the insurance companies that insure ConAgra and any third party suppliers or contractors will be focused solely on how to protect themselves from claims which are sure to come from the victims and their families.

Of course, the injured employees and the families of the deceased employees are entitled to immediate workers’ compensation benefits. However, workers’ compensation benefits are extremely limited. Workers’ compensation insurance does not include payment for pain and suffering, punitive damages and other damages which have certainly been suffered by the employees and their families.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 4:44 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

The formula is B>PL, where B is the cost (burden) of taking adequate precaution, P is the probability of injury, and L is the monetary amount of damages sustained due to an injury.
A problem with this monetary approach to damages is that one can evaluate in a million plausibly reasonable ways the value of anything.

For instace, consider the ball and fence problem. Instead of considering the monetary aspects of it, consider the physical aspects.

What are the odds that a ball can be kicked/handled with enough force to pass a fence (or any similar restriction device) ? By considering its normal use (by humans, not by cannons), the properties of the ball and other conditions, one could construct a fence with such properties that 99,9% of all possible ball launches are going to be stopped. One could also consider the surrounding areas, looking out for likely outcomes of a ball going outside the court.

Take a more serious case of lack of security, like the Thyssen Krupp accident who took the lifes of seven workers in Italy. The allegations of violations are incredible: the machines constantly leaked oil, which caused frequent dangerous minor fires and slippery floors. The machines were also not properly maintained and the security measures were overridden in order not to slow down production. That kind of negligence can't be avoided by any technical means, for any device will sooner or later fail. But of course the cost of maintenance or not taking "some risk" can easily overcome the cost of the installation of devices, as it can halt production, making the factor lose some commission whose monetary value may not be huge per se, but very important for a factory in dire financial straits.

Would it be reasonable to claim that security measures are not to be installed, because the projected costs of their installation and maintenance (or loss of revenue)would probably be higher that any monetary compensation for damages, considering the probabilities of an accident? What is the estimation of the odds is wrong, or it was done at a time in which, for instance, the machines were brand new and unlikely to fail?

Obviously you would have to add stop times to reevaluate the security conditions, which quickly adds up to the B side of the disequation, and you also have to factor in the possibility that maintenance will not be done or done properly, or that by legal tricks the responsability is shifted to someone who doesn't even know the kind of responsability he has just signed into.

That would probably make the probability P=1 in a snap, as one can't really predict when an irrational behavior is going to happen (who would have tought the Thyssen management would have accepted such huge risks? ), but we are sure that irrational risk taking sometime happens, expecially when you are not the one risking limbs or life.

So technically the risk may be low, given the track record of similar work arrangements, but it can easily become high if the management starts disregarding routine maintenance because they'd rather take the risk then close shop, as they are not really the ones risking the most.
posted by elpapacito at 5:16 PM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

Well, I'm late getting back to this but anyway...

taliaferro, I hope you also noticed this, from the same link: "There is an old hypothesis in economics, associated with John Shea now of University of Maryland, that accidents reflect labor effort and that declines substantially in recessions."

I did notice that - in my comment I noted that not only has the total number decreased, but that "the rate of workplace deaths decreased" as well. I.e., the decrease is not solely due to there being fewer workers.
posted by taliaferro at 5:55 PM on November 16, 2009

But short of breathalyzer tests every morning, what would you recommend to ensure safety?

Where I work, there are breathalyser tests every morning.

There are thick books of protocols and procedures for even the simplest tasks. I have to wear safety glasses to walk from one building to the next. Before I approach someone who can clearly see me, I have to wave a light at him and wait for him to wave it back at me with the 'come here' signal. Hell, there's a Material Safety Data Sheet pinned up in the toilet above the hand cleaner with safety instructions for what to do if you get it on your hands.

It's ridiculous, and annoying, but I'd much rather be working here than somewhere that didn't take these precautions. This year, about 60 people (out of maybe 250) have been fired for either falling asleep on the job, failing to stop at stop signs, taking a sick day because they'd been drinking, not wearing a safety harness when they were within 5 metres of a drop, etc. They were fired because the management here are serious about keeping people alive, even if it means losing valuable workers (and many of those guys had been here for years).

It's extreme, and it's hard to get used to, but having experienced this (and having experienced less careful sites) I wouldn't have it any other way.
posted by twirlypen at 8:33 PM on November 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

there are companies who take safety seriously - they have lock out tag out procedures to ensure that machines are in zero energy state when they are worked upon - they have repetitive and crystal clear training procedures - they have rigorous enforcement of safety policies up to firing people for violation of safety rules

i've worked at a factory with this program in place for 10 years - i have seen people violate these rules and be fired for them - i have seen people be injured because they violated these rules - i have seen my company train people over and over again that they are NOT to do such things and i STILL see them do them - they're just a bit more careful to see that management doesn't catch them

jefficator's views are realistic and experienced ones - by way of explanation, what you have to understand is that today's factory floor is a dysfunctional mess of passive/aggressive behavior by both management and employees, that some of the people i work with are darwin awards waiting to happen and the more the company tries to change things the more the people try to resist - because they're going to resist that management in each and every thing they can even if it costs them their jobs, even if it fucking kills them - and people would much, much rather get through the day with the minimum of hassle (and work) - management and labor - rather than insist that things be done the right way - the rank and file violate the rules and management avoids seeing it - not because they don't care about safety but because they're afraid of the hit on productivity that will be caused by another firing - and the unpleasantness - and yeah, maybe someone going batshit insane on them

when you have people putting bullets under your door jamb, it means something

metafilter: you have no idea what the blue collar world is like in 2009

and blaming it all on management is simplistic - management and labor are in a death spiral race to the bottom in this country

the manufacturing culture in our country is totally, irreversibly fucked up and most of the commenters here just don't know a thing about it

it's a mess out there - and it's not just greedy corporations that are responsible for that
posted by pyramid termite at 9:02 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Hell, there's a Material Safety Data Sheet pinned up in the toilet above the hand cleaner with safety instructions for what to do if you get it on your hands.

hmmm - makes mental note to check msds book to see if we've got that at our shop

my place isn't as extreme twirlypen, but you've brought out something - as safety conscious as your company is, people STILL aren't following the rules

the word that keeps popping up in my head is "dysfunctional"
posted by pyramid termite at 9:08 PM on November 16, 2009

it's a mess out there - and it's not just greedy corporations that are responsible for that

True enough. But the law can't make employees work better. However, the law can make employers create safer workplaces.
posted by shetterly at 9:31 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

twirlypen: "Hell, there's a Material Safety Data Sheet pinned up in the toilet above the hand cleaner with safety instructions for what to do if you get it on your hands."

Could... could you take a picture of that? It would really amuse me.
posted by boo_radley at 9:49 PM on November 16, 2009

Two workers had to be hospitalized. There was no report made to OSHA until our union officers called. Eventually, (months later) an OSHA rep showed up for an inspection, and found over a hundred safety violations in the plant, many of which the union safety committee had been complaining for years at our monthly safety meeting.

No fines, just a warning. So the company made out well by ignoring worker safety, since they put off making the necessary improvements by years. The injuries that had been sustained over those years were immaterial to them.

That's pretty horrible and probably typical. I once knew a guy who worked at a place where management willfully ignored a violation despite repeated warnings from employees, then when an inspector showed up, management claimed not only to have never heard about the problem but also tried to convince the inspector that the law never existed and that the inspector was wrong, touting their "years of experience." Well, management was wrong, but the inspector let them off completely anyway because they were "cooperating." Though it depends on the industry and the violation, enforcement is mostly a joke. Of course, try using the "that law doesn't exist, I was unaware" excuse anywhere else besides endangering your employees for higher profit, it probably won't work.
posted by peppito at 1:58 AM on November 17, 2009

Secret Life of Gravy, yes, exactly. That's what workers' compensation does. It makes it easier for employees to collect on the low end, where the employer isn't at fault, but also precludes punitive damages and pain and suffering awards. The families in the anecdote you cite will each get up to \$620 a week for the rest of their lives (or until the surviving spouse remarries), without having to even set foot in court. Just like that. This represents potentially a million dollars over 35-ish years.

That ain't chump change. Sure, they aren't getting the money now, and yeah, there aren't any punitive damages. But what you're saying is that getting a paycheck for the rest of their natural lives without having to lift a finger isn't enough, because they aren't going to be set up for life.

Come on now. Yeah, losing a family member to a workplace accident is a tragedy, but what you seem to be arguing for just isn't reasonable. The family is being compensated, but you're saying that isn't enough, that they should get more than that. That employers should have a duty to see that the family of a worker who is killed at the workplace should be far better off than they would be if he hadn't died.

While I agree that regulations should be better enforced, I'm not seeing why the family deserves any more than what they're currently getting, which is a far sight better than they might get if they went to court. It's entirely possible that if the case went to trial they'd get nothing. You never know what you're going to get when you go before a jury, and North Carolina isn't exactly legendary as a plaintiff-friendly jurisdiction.

Also, just so you know, the families in question have probably not suffered "pain and suffering," because not a single one of them was physically injured in any way. They've certainly got a case for wrongful death and loss of consortium, maybe even mental anguish, but pain and suffering per se is almost always linked to some kind of physical impact. You've got a website operated by plaintiff trial attorneys, so it's not surprising that they'd spin the situation in the way that they do. You've got to promise a potential client the moon to get them to turn down what workers' compensation would provide automatically.
posted by valkyryn at 3:30 AM on November 17, 2009

While I agree that regulations should be better enforced, I'm not seeing why the family deserves any more than what they're currently getting, which is a far sight better than they might get if they went to court

Wow, I sure hope that you are trolling because otherwise your lack of empathy is astonishing. Can you not understand that \$620.00 a week is not enough to replace a loved one? If so, you are a cold, cold person. When I send my husband off to work, I sometimes fear for him during the drive-- especially if it is storming-- but I never imagine that the roof is going to collapse on him at work and kill him. The thought of taking a million dollars in exchange for him makes me sick, really physically ill. A million dollars cannot replace him. If he were to die, the pain and suffering I would experience is too enormous to contemplate.

Your problem is you are viewing these people in terms of how much money they can make as workers without viewing how valuable they were as people.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:58 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Workers compensation laws were originally created to protect workers against unsafe employers. Previously, employers would refuse to compensate injured workers by claiming the workers were at fault for not following safety guidelines. Collecting workers comp does not preclude you from suing an employer for negligence.

So, if you sever a hand retrieving a pack of smokes without shutting off the shop press, you get compensated the same as if you lost your hand because your employer didn't provide the proper guards on the same machine. In the first instance, it's your own dumb fault and you get workers comp, in the second, its your employers fault and you get workers comp, and you can sue your employer for negligence.
posted by electroboy at 8:30 AM on November 17, 2009

Lying with statistics.
To what does this comment refer?

Just out of cuiosity, and I do know that, "women who took holidays were more satisfied with their marriages and less likely to become depressed, while a separate study showed that among men who were at high risk for coronary heart disease, those who took vacations had a lower death rate." Yeah, OK, I'll buy that.

But I still want to know the relative probabilities of dying at work, vs dying on vacation.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:02 AM on November 17, 2009

I can also attest to what I saw at a factory job in I took in High School. Myself and several other college-bound suburban kids worked there, mainly because our hard-ass parents wanted us to appreciate the value of money before handing over all those college funds.

It was all pretty hard work, in a one-of-a-kind jerry-rigged automated assembly line. There was one station that was easier to run, but involved standing in a cloud of chemical fumes. If any of us inquired about working that station the foreman said, "no one who speaks English and has a high school degree, let alone middle class parents, can work that station."
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:15 AM on November 17, 2009

Secret Life of Gravy, you misunderstand me. When I say that "pain and suffering" isn't applicable, I'm not saying that the families of lost loved ones won't in fact suffer, but that "pain and suffering" is a legal term of art which is linked to awards for physical injury. Mental anguish is the legal term of art linked to the kind if injury you describe, and would probably be on the table in the case you cited.

I think you're also missing my point about workers' compensation. Yes, it's obvious that a million dollars cannot possibly replace a lost loved one. But by that same score, ten million dollars won't replace them either. Nothing anyone can do will adequately compensate for the loss of them as a person. Life sucks, and money doesn't always fix it. As a result, the legal system has been consistently resistant to awarding money in cases where money will not remedy the underlying problem. Massive "pain and suffering" awards are something of an abberation, coming up only in the last few decades, and it's not entirely clear that they're going to be a permanent addition to the legal system. The only thing that can truly be made whole here is lost income. We can put a dollar amount on that and make it better. Workers' compensation acts to ensure that that, at least, is taken care of.

Furthermore, you need to recognize that the choice you have here is not between workers' compensation benefits and a multi-million jury award. If you go to court, you could easily wind up with nothing at all, and in light of that, it is not at all unreasonable to choose a guaranteed \$620--or whatever--a week for life over a chance of getting nothing.

This could easily happen if employees were permitted to bring suits in tort rather than requiring workers' compensation claims. Sure, punitive damages etc. are on the table for liability actions, but unlike workers' compensation claims, jury awards are reduced by the employee's share of the fault. And situations where the employee was completely innocent, absent criminal conduct, are quite rare, so you're looking at a situation where your award is guaranteed to be reduced. Even if the jury awards a million dollars, if they also find that the employee was, say 25% at fault, the family only gets \$750k. But there are many states where if the plaintiff is 51% at fault he gets nothing, and a few remaining states where any substantial fault by the plaintiff can result in a complete bar to recovery. Think about that for a second. So your husband gets killed at work, and the jury finds that he was at least as responsible for his death as his employer, with a result that you get nothing at all. That hardly seems fair, does it?

This is the primary advantage of the workers' compensation system, that employees and their families are guaranteed to get compensation, regardless of who was at fault, without that compensation being reduced or barred entirely by the employee's own negligence. This is far from insignificant. Will it bring them back? No. Will it make up for the loss of them as a person? No. But it isn't intended to. Nothing the legal system does is intended to that. What it can do is to guarantee that the income you lost to the accident will be replaced, which is a far sight better than nothing, and as close as anyone can get to making you whole.

But these things are especially true in cases of injuries not resulting in death, as in many cases it is exceptionally difficult to prove that the employer bore any responsibility for what happened. The tort liability system would give those employees nothing, even for the loss of limbs. Workers' compensation pays them without even raising the issue of fault. This is far better than the alternative.

Which is what I'm trying to get you to understand. Workers' compensation is not a perfect system, but the alternative is completely unacceptable. You don't have to like it, but you be able to recognize that.
posted by valkyryn at 10:11 AM on November 17, 2009

I used to work in a factory which made paper bags, and our biggest contract and 99% of all the bag production was done for McDonald's. We made about 3 million bags a day, and it was a small contract (this was in the early '90s). The bag machines were pretty big, consisting of a printer, a bag maker and a baler, and they're extremely dangerous and can easily and quickly remove an entire limb.

Anyway, the machines had all sorts of guards on it to prevent injury, but to get maximum production it was necessary to run the machines with the guards off, so you could clean and do maintenance while it was running. The idea is, when OSHA shows up you put the guards on, and we almost always knew ahead of time. This was more or less standard practice at the time among a lot of bag makers, but if you make bags in Chicago you're almost certain to be in the union making at least \$16/hr., and that's entry level. Most of the union machine operators made \$25/hr. I was a machine operator with almost two years into the job at the time, and my production numbers were always near maximum. We made \$6/hr. with no benefits.

The family which owned the factory was very wealthy and had made their initial fortune with a toilet paper factory in Belize, where the working conditions are much worse. I knew the family personally, which is how I got the job, but they never promised me a free ride, which is fine. I wasn't expecting to be there very long anyway, but sometimes you get stuck for a while. I wish I hadn't, because it made me resent them for their labor practices and made our future relationship difficult.

Oh, and I managed to remove the skin off the tip of one of my fingers on the job, requiring a graft and minor surgery. Workers comp covered it, but as soon as I was cleared from all the paperwork, I quit without any reservations, and without looking back.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:15 AM on November 17, 2009

Oh, and I managed to remove the skin off the tip of one of my fingers on the job, requiring a graft and minor surgery.

By the way, this was on part of the machine which was supposed to have a guard on it while it was running, but that fact never came up in any of the paperwork. I was lucky, because it could have easily sucked in much more of my arm.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:17 AM on November 17, 2009