Monday, November 27, 2006

"Do what you’re told, or take the chance of being fired."

If you listen to the rhetoric spewing forth from OSHA and MSHA these days, you'd think that all employers and workers need is a little more information on how to work safely. A few more fact sheets, a couple more web pages, maybe a speech or two, and all will be well.

Actually, in all too many workplaces, that's not how it happens. Workers are given the choice between doing the job unsafely or losing their jobs, also known as job blackmail -- your job or your life. In these situations, people often blame the workers: "Well, if he knew it was dangerous, why didn't he just quit?"

Here we have a story about the preventable death of mine worker Steven Bryant who was crushed to death when the truck he was driving overturned.
It was Bryant’s first time behind the wheel of the truck, which carried 8,000 gallons of water weighing more than 33 tons. Investigators found that Bryant had not been trained by his employer, Miller Brothers Coal LLC, to operate the vehicle, also a violation of law.

The truck came to rest at the bottom of the nearly mile-long road in fourth gear, higher than an experienced driver would have used. Using that gear would have caused the truck to travel at an unsafe speed, taxing its regular, wheel brakes.

Investigators determined that those brakes also were defective and improperly maintained — yet another violation.

A working engine brake would have helped slow the truck. Such a brake helps reduce wear and tear on a vehicle’s wheel brakes and typically is installed on heavy trucks hauling on mountain roads.

Workers, especially young and inexperienced ones, sometimes face a difficult choice at relatively small, nonunion coal mines: Do what you’re told, or take the chance of being fired, said longtime mine-safety advocate Tony Oppegard.

“If he has a family to support, he’s either going to do what he’s told to do and risk his own safety, or else get fired and not be able to support his family,” Oppegard said. “A lot of miners will take the former option (perform the unsafe task).”

Miners who are fired because they refused to do something they thought was unsafe can file suit seeking reinstatement and back pay. But even if they win, the process may take several years. Meanwhile, they may be out of work.
MSHA found that the employer violated federal and state laws when he knew that a company water truck had a defective engine brake but told an employee to drive the vehicle anyway. MSHA issued four citations to Miller Brothers Coal in July, including one accusing the company of “high negligence” for telling Bryant to drive the truck when they knew about the faulty engine brake.