AERT: What price a man’s life? | Street Jazz

Monday, April 14, 2014

AERT: What price a man’s life?

Posted By on Mon, Apr 14, 2014 at 12:19 PM

$44,000, evidently, to the satisfaction to both OSHA and Advanced Environmental Recycling Technologies of Springdale, following the death of employee Matthew Chwirka, whose only real mistake that day may have been clocking in to come to work.

I have never been quite sure how such figures are reached, or indeed, why it should be $44,000, rather than $50,000, or even the more paltry $40,000.

But $44,000 it is . . . provided that the fine never gets negotiated downwards. If it ever does, of course, no one in the local media will ever report it, because they will never know about it, unless an employee happens to write down the information from the bulletin board and passes it along to them. Then, perhaps, they just might (or not, if they are a TV news program and have a few cute YouTube clips to show instead) pass the news along to the public.

Following the death of Matthew Chwirka last July, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (the object of so much much scorn by those who put worker safety after profits) determined that three employees at the AERT plant - which mixes together plastic and recycled wood for decking materials - were working on vents to the equipment which mixes things together, while the equipment was actually still in operation.

Dust from the mixer then caught fire, and all three workers were injured, two of them seriously burned enough to require being flown to a burn center in Springfield, Missouri.

Matthew Chwirka died the following day.

People don’t come to work to die.

The $44,000 - as insulting a sum as it is for a man’s life - covers several workplace violations - one for a repeat (a repeat!) violation, dealing with combustible dust leaking into the mixer. The sort of dust which could cause physical harm, or even death.

It could cause explosions or fires.

In the April 10 edition of the Northwest Arkansas Times, Springdale assistant fire chief Kevin McDonald was quoted as saying, “The dust was piled up inches thick.”

Even though OSHA had investigated AERT in both 2009 and 2012, and the company cited for several reasons, a man died last July.

Two of the citations, incidentally, were repealed during an appeal. Was that a mistake?

Since the fire, the company has begun a program to keep the plant free of the dust, and management claims to want to do the best they can to make the plant safe for their employees.


Why did it take a man’s death before they took it seriously?

If this were you or me, and we had been warned about conditions in our home, and a family member died, we would be facing criminal prosecution. Shouldn’t the same standards hold true for corporate members of our community?

After all, if corporations are people . . .


Quote of the Day

If we should ever inaugurate a hall of fame, it would be reserved exclusively and hopefully for authors who, having written four best-sellers, still refrained from starting out on a lecture tour. - E.B. White

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