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

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


Parallel Universe: OSHA Reconizes W.R. Grace For "Exemplary Occupational Safety and Health"

If you were to take the time to draw up a corporate Hall of Shame, high up on the list would be WR. Grace. Seven of Grace's current or former executives and department heads were indicted last February for attempting to hide the fact that asbestos was present in vermiculite products at the company’s Libby, Montana plant. Approximately 1,200 residents of Libby had been identified as suffering from some kind of asbestos-related abnormality. And that's not all. The asbestos laden vermiculite was processed at factories all across the country, exposing workers and contaminating communities like Hamilton, NJ and then they lied about cleaning it up.

Given Grace's history, I generally expect the word "Grace" to be associated in the media with words like "death," "fatal illness," "crime," "criminal," and "outlaw." So imagine my traumatic mental whiplash when I saw this headline: Grace Plant Awarded Star Certification By OSHA.

Read it and retch:
New Orleans -- The Grace Davison Lake Charles, Louisiana plant of W. R. Grace & Co. (NYSE:GRA) has earned membership in the prestigious "Star" Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

According to OSHA, the VPP recognizes and promotes effective workplace safety and health management. Membership in the VPP Star is OSHA's official recognition of exemplary occupational safety and health. VPP Star worksites must submit annual self-evaluations and undergo periodic onsite reevaluations every three to five years to remain in the program. The Lake Charles plant is one of approximately 1,143 VPP Star worksites out of more than 20 million worksites in the United States.
No, this did not come out of the Onion. They wouldn't be so ridiculous.

Back when I worked for OSHA, we had a vetting process. When the Secretary or Assistant Secretary of Labor was going to appear publicly with a company representative, or give them some kind of award, DOL worker-bees would quickly and thoroughly research the company to make sure there were no skeletons that would embarrass the government of United States of America (or any of its officials). I remember one time we were checking up on a company and someone found that they had a branch in South Korea where one of the company's employees had intentionally set himself on fire on the company steps. Being politically sensitive individuals, we decided that if working conditions were so bad that workers were killing themselves, it probably wasn't the kind of company that we wanted to recognize in any way.

So what the hell's going on over there? Have they at long last no sense of decency? Are they completely politically tone deaf? I mean, I know they won't rest until they've given VPP status or established a partnership or Alliance with every company in America, but you'd think they'd draw the line somewhere.

Yeah, I know, I'm still an innocent, a hopeless idealist. I still believe that despite everything, people are really good at heart. I want my virginity back.

Alas....

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