Saturday, December 17, 2005

Putting Corporate Killers Behind Bars: "Which Side Are You On"

It seems to be making sense to more and more people that employers who knowingly put workers into hazardous situations where they get killed should face some kind of jail time. From Staten Island, New York, to Yuma, Arizona to the halls of Congress and even within OSHA, there's more and more buzz about criminal prosecutions against employers and companies. Even some Republicans were for stronger OSHA criminal penalties before they were against them.


Tony Parker, a 56-year-old Valparaiso, Indiana man was killed on the job June 4, 2004 when he fell 20 to 25 feet at the hot metal station, where iron comes into the steel shop from the blast furnace and is transferred from rail cars into ladles. Parker, whose body was crushed by a transfer care which holds the hot metal ladle, was working alone at the Ispat Inland Indiana Harbor steel mill, which is currently owned by Mittal Steel. The company admitted that the root cause of Parker's death was the lack of fall protection.
There was no handrail system in place nor any harness available to keep him from falling as he worked alone, jackhammering slag off the equipment used to test the heat in the furnace. And though the company knew of the problems, corrective actions never were taken.

Indiana's Occupational Health and Safety Administration fined Ispat Inland $8,625 for five safety violations in connection with the accident.
Next month, Indiana Rep. Dan Stevenson, a member of Parker's union, United Steelworker Local 1010, will introduce the "Corporate Manslaughter Act" which will hold corporations criminally liable for "accidents that occur because they knowingly, deliberately and willfully disregard conditions that lead to work place injury or death."
The legislation Stevenson will introduce in the 2006 session will show corporations that there are severe consequences, rather than just paying a "paltry" Occupational Safety and Health Administration fine when safety violations result in death.

"As a steelworker for 28 years, I have seen safety violations go uncorrected even though they have been reported on numerous occasions," Stevenson said, adding he wants to prevent a repeat of the accident that killed Tony Parker in June 2004 at Ispat Inland Inc.'s East Chicago plant now operating under the Mittal Steel U.S.A. banner.

Parker's wife, Shirley, and Elizabeth Richards, the wife of Karl Richards, a U.S. Steel Gary Works manager who died Dec. 21, 2004, attended the event to give their support to the legislation.

"Everyday is an effort to get through," Shirley Parker said. "I just hope it doesn't happen to other families. No one should have to go through this."

Elizabeth Richards said she doesn't want anyone, or anyone's children to go through the same grief she and her children have.

"I feel like I've crawled on my knees through hell," she said. "I don't want it to happen to anyone else. I want it to stop, and maybe it can start here."
Parker was disappointed with the fine the company received for her husband's death:
"I thought it would be $25,000 or $100,000,'' Shirley Parker said.

"It seems so inadequate. People need to be aware of what can happen and keep these places safe. No one should have to go through this. A fine of $8,000? It certainly doesn't give the company any motivation to change."

"It seems strange that people can get millions from McDonalds when they drop a cup of hot coffee in their lap, but you can't sue even when you know it's the company's fault that your husband is dead."
Although they realize the legislation will be difficult to pass, these are important issues to start talking about:
But it's a first step, they said.

"It's a long journey, but this one's worth it," said David Chlebek, vice president of USW Local 12775, which represents NIPSCO workers.

The legislation poses a question to every state legislator, "What side are you on?" Robinson said. "Corporate executives that place profits ahead of the safety of their workers, or the working men and women of the state?"
Employers who cause the death of a worker due to a reckless violation of safety standards commits a Class D felony, and employers who cause the death of an employee as a result of a knowing or intentional violation of safety standards commits a Class C felony. A Class D felony can result in a fine up to $10,000 and 6 months-3 years in prison, whilde a Class C felony can result in a fine up to $10,000 and 2-8 years in prison.