July 9th, 2014

Punishment too light for employer-caused death & toxifying river systems

In this space we regularly call for greater employer accountability and the enactment of laws that make that accountability more likely than is currently done voluntarily. Our domain is the non-physical safety threat. U.S. workers are supposedly to be made safe from threats to their physical safety.

OSHA, a “regulatory” agency responsible for Occupational Safety and Health in the U.S. seems to have trouble accomplishing its mission. “OSHA’s mission is to assure safe and healthful workplaces by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.” Wondering if by assistance, OSHA means delivering “waivers” to destructive employers who poison and take lives.

For example, the following two stories of injustice based on token punishment will curdle your blood.

Story 1.

A CSC Sugar plant in Fairless Hills, PA provides sugar for Snapple and Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. The plant is staffed and managed entirely by temp workers. According to ProPublica statistics, temporary workers are most at risk for safety hazards at worksites in states where data exist.

In February 2013, Peruvian New Jersey resident Janio Salinas was unclogging the machine from below. He was buried alive and asphyxiated. Coworkers found him after they returned from lunch. The onsite temp manager had complained about this potential hazard to a higher level manager until a safety platform was installed. However, the big boss instructed the temp manager to remove that platform because it had slowed the flow of sugar, had slowed down “production.” That big boss lied about his order to investigators, claiming ignorance about the platform (picture on the left). His costly decision was made 13 days before Salinas was buried. Turns out the only cost was Salinas’ life.

Next came the OSHA investigation. OSHA initially fined CSC $25,855 but after CSC installed a safety guard and started using a new procedure to break up sugar clumps, the fine was reduced to $18,098 (for good behavior???). Jean Kulp, director of OSHA’s Allentown, PA, office, told Univision that her agency doesn’t have the ability to shut down businesses, has limited criminal enforcement provisions, and found the CSC had not been “willfully in violation,” which would have triggered bigger fines despite a record of repeated violations.

$18,098 for a man’s life!

Kulp’s ultimate insult to the Salinas’ surviving family: CSC had not in her judgement shown “total disregard” for its workers.

Thanks to Daily Kos for the tip to the tale.

Story 2.

Remember the release of toxic MCHM into the Elk River in West Virginia discovered on January 9, 2014? The chemical rendered drinking water unsafe. OSHA came on the scene on Jan. 10. At first, OSHA declared the water safe for bathing and showering, despite residents reporting that it smelled terribly. Smart prudent families boiled their water. Then OSHA revised its position. the tainted water might not be entirely safe for pregnant women. Oops.

At least 10,000 gallons leaked but no one was certain about how much. The contaminated river affected the lives of 300,000 people for weeks. Originally, OSHA cited Freedom Industries for mislabeling the storage as containing Glycerin. The company moved the MHCM to other tanks at Poca Blending. The state agency, Department of Environmental Protection, determined that there were holes in the walls meant to contain leaks at the second site and issued citations for five violations. OSHA, on the other hand, claimed there were no violations at that facility!

Freedom famously and conveniently filed for bankruptcy.

On July 3, 2014, OSHA celebrated Freedom’s escape from liability by slapping the defunct company with two whopping fines totaling $11,000! $7,000 for not having a strong enough wall to hold back the leaks from the river and $4,000 for not having standard railings on the platform that crossed the containment wall.

Read the entire OSHA report.


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This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 9th, 2014 at 2:41 pm and is filed under Commentary by G. Namie, Employers Gone Wild: Doing Bad Things, Fairness & Social Justice Denied, The New America. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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