Saturday, July 13, 2013

OSHA fines company for man’s death; will it be reduced? Or even collected?

Posted By on Sat, Jul 13, 2013 at 12:46 PM

This is another reason why, even in Walmart Country, news outlets should take advantage of the knowledge of the labor unions in our midst, or anyone who has written about labor. Or, barring that, I suppose they could always use Google.

In Fayetteville, we have discovered the true worth of a man’s life - the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a $6,700 fine to Business Construction Services, who are building the Vue, a “student” housing apartment complex.

One always sort of wonders what the owners might do if you cease to be a student, and instead become just a normal member of society - a factory worker, perhaps Would you find your worldly goods (along with your eviction notice) on the sidewalk one day when you returned from the grocery store? I’m sure a nifty legal case could be built if someone who wasn’t a student wanted to move into one of these complexes and was denied because of that.

I just posted the residency question to their Facebook page; let’s see how long it stays up.

But getting back to OSHA, and the monstrous fine (yes, I’m being ironic) they have levied upon the company when 26 year-old Brannon M. Rhine died while on the job . . .

This was after an oil spill involving hundreds of gallons of fuel at the same site, and another worker died in a high voltage accident.

According to Fayetteville city officials, they really can’t do much about this - since they haven’t actually violated any city codes - but surely they can make sure this company doesn’t get any more work in this city in the future?

Would that be too much to ask?

Back to OSHA again.

As any factory worker can tell you, fines are often announced, and then a notice will appear on a bulletin board announcing that they have been negotiated downwards. Either the company has made improvements or it promises to make them.

Looking at the notices became a sort of grim entertainment for many of us when I worked in industrial plants, especially as we were aware of the preparations often made before OSHA made an inspection. The day after the inspection? Production lines were usually turned back up to their regular speed.

But not to worry in this case, though. The fine, as insulting as it is to both the family of the dead worker and his co-workers on the job, has been levied. Nothing to see here, folks. We can all go home.

Well, except if you consider this . . .

In Massachusetts, roofer John Nadeau fell more than 20 feet off a roof. He was working sans safety net or harness.

His employer was fined by OSHA (that monster that conservatives like to rail about) a little over $5,000. This whopping fine was for the three violations which OSHA deemed serious enough to have caused his death.

Frank Callahan, president of the Massachusetts Building Trades Council, representing 75,000 construction workers, expressed his frustration with OSHA when he said, “You see a story in a newspaper that OSHA is hitting a company with a big fine, but what you don't see is how much that fine is reduced afterward.

“When you see the outcomes, in a lot of cases, animal abuse brings heavier fines.”

http://www.eagletribune.com/latestnews/x356194410/Fatal-flaws-Workplace-deaths-rarely-result-in-large-fines/print

And sometimes - like the old joke about performing Community Service - the fines may not be collected at all. There have been cases when companies have filed for bankruptcy following the levy of a fine, and OSHA may not have even filed the paperwork, so everything just gets lost in the shuffle.

It has even been reported that OSHA (and the various state agencies under its watch) have simply failed collect many fines. Perhaps only half of the actual monies owed the government (and the American worker) are ever collected.

Many of the overdue debts may end up at . . . a collection agency. Just like when you haven’t paid your credit card bill, or cinder-block-of-the-month club bill, they get turned over to the tender hands of folks who will harry them by letter and telephone.

OSHA does have the option of taking a company to court, but this seldom happens. And in the case of the Fayetteville fine being so tiny, would they even bother?

We have been promised by at least one television station that they will “stay on top” of this story. Well, let’s just see if they do.

In the meantime, it might be nice if the folks in Fayetteville city government at least made sure that this one construction company didn’t do business in our town for some time to come.

******

Quote of the Day

During the last few years, politics has worked perversely: taxes on the wealthy have been cut, and so have programs directed at the poor. The reason isn't difficult to explain. Many Americans— especially those who have been losing ground have given up on politics. As their incomes have shrunk, they've lost confidence that the "system" will work in their interest. That cynicism has generated a self-fulfilling prophesy. Politicians stop paying attention to people who don't vote, who don't work the phone banks or walk the precincts, who have opted out. And the political inattention seems to justify the cynicism. Meanwhile, the top tier has experienced precisely the opposite—a virtuous cycle in which campaign contributions have attracted the rapt attention of politicians, the attention has elicited even more money, which in turn has given the top tier even greater influence. - Robert Reich, Former Secretary of Labor

rsdrake@cox.net

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