Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Devil And Mr. Fitch Sell Miners Out

Those of us active in workplace safety issues are well aware that some of the most virulently anti-OSHA, anti-union, anti-worker corporate attorney's once worked for the Department of Labor. Were they always evil spawns of Satan, or did they just decide at some point to sell their souls to the Devil for the big bucks? Who knows?

Anyway, it seems that our friend Beelzebub has bagged another one.
Raising safety-violation fines for U.S. mine operators will be time-consuming as well as costly without making miners safer, witnesses told federal officials yesterday.

"It is simply a new tax on the mining industry as a whole," said Edward "Ned" Fitch, recently retired as a litigation attorney for the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, or MSHA. "It is punishing the entire mining industry for the conduct of a few bad apples."

In June, the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act established a new maximum fine of $220,000 for flagrant safety violations, up from the previous $60,000 maximum.

Mr. Fitch was one of three witnesses at yesterday's public hearing at MSHA headquarters, the first of six regional hearings on the act. About 30 people attended.
Fitch has not only taken off his sheep's clothing, but he's also just plain wrong about the "entire mining industry" being punished, according to Ellen Smith, Managing Editor of Mine Safety and Health News:
Mine operators refuse to recognize the fact that if they run a safe and clean operation, they won't get fined!

I recently read an email sent to me written an Oregon stone operator who was complaining about his number of citations and fines going up in the last three years. He too was upset over the proposed civil penalty structure.

My response is this: "if you don't have a violation, then you won't get cited. If you have been improperly cited, then you need to contest the citation, which can be done without an attorney."
Smith points out that not only is it possible to run a mine without getting "punished" by MSHA, but there's actually a website ( that posts mining companies that completed an MSHA inspection with zero citations. She points out that "There are many, many companies that have inspections, and no citations. "

One other little quibble with Fitch's statement. Industry attorneys always argue that there's really no need citations and fines and enforcement, because all companies really want to do the right thing and all you have to do is give them more information about how to do it. Then, when disaster strikes and workers are killed because of a company's flagrant neglect of safety standards, they're dismissed as "a few bad apples" in a barrel filled with law-abiding good citizens. No need to issue more standards or raise fines. Just weed out the bad apples and all is well.

But how do we know if the companies where disaster strikes are really "a few bad apples," or actually "the tip of the iceberg?"

What's another word for "bad apple?"