Monday, April 21, 2003

Life Gets Cheaper

And while I'm in such a fine mood, WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?
Contractor Cited for Exposing Workers to Confined Space Hazards
Two Employees Died at Miami Beach Job Site

FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Electrical Technologies Corporation for exposing employees to safety hazards at a Miami Beach job site where two workers died after entering a manhole and being exposed to hydrogen sulfide gas. The agency issued four citations with proposed penalties totaling $62,000.
Now, all of you who have been reading my rants for the last few years know that I have this THING about employers killing workers in trenches. Because EVERYONE who is in construction knows that trenches can collapse and kill. And they should go to jail if they kill people in trenches.

I also have a THING about confined spaces. Partly the same reason. And partly because about 10 years back an AFSCME member was killed in a manhole and the manager said "Oh, gosh! We never had any idea. Someone must of poured some chemical in there or something. Just one of those terrible tragic things." This person should have gone to jail, because no one who runs a wastewater treatment plant or a sewage system can honestly claim they don't know about confined spaces. This person didn't go to jail. The employer (the city) wasn't even cited or fined because this happened in one of 26 states in this country where it is still perfectly legal to kill public employees.

But I digress....

First, why does this press release say "Contractor Cited for Exposing Workers to Confined Space Hazards?" The Contractor didn't "expose" workers to confined space hazards. The contractor killed two workers in a confined space.

Second, why is the fine only $56,000 for willfully killing two people -- the original victim and the rescuer. (Actually, they probably came within seconds of killing a third worker -- another potential rescuer who managed to get out when he felt dizzy.) Quite a bargain for two -- almost three -- deaths. And just to add insult to injury, four guys had been working inside an unsafe 12-foot deep trench before one climbed down the manhole to unclog a hose. Those and other citations brought the grand total to a whopping $62,000.

Now everyone knows that OSHA doesn't have anywhere near enough staff to do the job that Congress told it to do 33 years ago. But what they can do is send a message to the employers that probably won't be inspected. $62,000 may be an "ouch" for a small contractors, but the potential for millions of dollars or jail time might really catch their attention. I don't know what the circumstances were in this case. Maybe it was a small company. Maybe this, maybe that. But $28,000 per life?

But it's not all OSHA's fault. It's up to Congress to give OSHA the authority to increase its penalty structure and make it easier to impose criminal penalties and jail time.

I could go on and on. And I will. Some other day.