Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Now We’re Talking

California is on the leading edge of using manslaughter charges to force employers to take workplace safety seriously. The case described in the articles cited below involve the February 2001 death of two irrigation workers who drowned in a manure pit, a confined space
Enrique Araisa, 29, was overcome by gases from the excrement as he tried to fix a pump in a large concrete waste pipe. He fell into a pool of liquid manure and drowned. Jose Alatorre, 22, fainted and fell into the waste while attempting a rescue.
The case is among the first to be prosecuted under a 1999 law signed by Governor Gray Davis providing that willful violations of safety standards that lead to death or permanent or prolonged impairment may be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or a felony. The bill also increased civil and criminal penalties for willful, serious and repeat violations of safety and health standards.

Although the charges were reduced from 20 to three, the judge let the manslaughter charges stand.
The indictment alleges that the workers had not been properly trained to deal with methane gas, did not have the proper equipment, and that air in the pipe had not been tested for the gas.

Methane is a byproduct created when manure decomposes. It can be fatal in high concentrations.

[The employers’] attorney, Michael Fagalde of Merced, said the consolidation of charges was significant. "Neither of these guys (Nunes and Faria) did anything. They're charged with not doing something," he said. "The poor, unfortunate victims made choices on their own."

He declined to say what those choices were.
Choices? Maybe they chose to do the job and feed their families. Maybe they chose to trust that their employer was being responsible for their safety. Maybe they chose to hope that their luck would hold out one more time.

Or, on the other hand, you’ve heard of “suicide by cop?” Maybe this was “suicide by job.”