Confined Space
News and Commentary on Workplace Health & Safety, Labor and Politics

Wednesday, August 31, 2005


McWane Guilty Again

Union Foundry, a division of the notorious McWane Industries, has agreed to plead guilty and pay a $4.25 million fine for an environmental crime and safety violation that led to the death of an employee.
In court papers unsealed yesterday in Federal District Court in Birmingham, Union Foundry, a McWane plant in Anniston, Ala., admitted that it had willfully violated federal safety rules, resulting in the death of Reginald Elston, a 27-year-old worker who was crushed in a conveyor belt. There was no required safety guard on the conveyor belt, even though an employee at a McWane foundry in Texas had been crushed to death in another unguarded conveyor belt less than two months earlier.

Union Foundry also admitted that it had illegally handled dust contaminated with lead and cadmium, two substances the federal government has linked to lung cancer.

Causing the death of a worker by willfully violating safety rules is a misdemeanor. Illegally disposing of contaminated dust is a felony. In deciding to plead guilty, McWane agreed to pay a $3.5 million criminal fine. It also agreed to submit a proposal to the United States attorney in Birmingham to spend an additional$750,000 on a community service project in Alabama that either improves workplace safety or protects the environment. No individuals were charged. The plea agreement requires approval by a federal judge.
McWane's criminal and deadly treatment of its workers was the subject of a 2003 Pulitzer Prize winning NY Times/Frontline series. . Union Foundry will pay $3.5 million in criminal fines and $750,000 for federal agencies to spend on services to benefit the Anniston Alabama community.

Last March, Tyler Pipe, another subsidiary of McWane pleaded guilty to "environmental crimes," fined $4.5 million, placed on probation for five years and required to spend an estimated $12 million on plant upgrades. And in June, a federal jury found industrial pipe maker McWane Inc. and two of its executives guilty of environmental crimes, including conspiracy to violate the Clean Water Act. Another McWane executive, the company's vice president for environmental affairs, was found guity of making false statements to the Environmental Protection Agency.

And moving from the tragic to the ridiculous, news of the guilty plea comes just a week after Union Foundry announced that in late June its employees "have surpassed 1,000,000 work hours with no lost time due to injury or illness" Their press release also announced that:
Union Foundry employees are next working towards achieving success in the OSHA, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) Star Program, which promotes effective employee driven worksite-based safety and health. The VPP designation is OSHA's official recognition of the outstanding efforts of the employer and employees who have achieved exemplary occupational safety and health.
If they gain VPP status, they will be joining asbestos-killer W.R. Grace which was granted VPP "Star" status, in the official VPP rogues' gallary.

And in case you were curious,
Founded in 1921, McWane, Inc. is a family-owned business based in Birmingham, Alabama with thirteen iron foundries and related businesses across the United States, Canada and Australia. McWane's divisions focus on the safe, environmentally friendly manufacturing of ductile iron pipe, fittings, hydrants, valves, propane tanks and fire extinguishers.

With fine, upstanding corporate citizens like these, who needs corporate outlaws? After all, it's been almost 8 months since McWane has killed anyone.


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