Friday, February 06, 2004

This is a bit more like it: $475,000 Fine For Workers' Deaths

"When employees die because employers have not complied with worker safety laws, it's more than just an accident, it's a crime."
So said Deputy District Attorney Jeffrey Holtzman as he handed down a $475,000 crminal penalty on Spectrum, a Petaluma, CA, health products company where two workers died in a 2002 industrial accident. Spectrum admitted to willfully violating the law.

Javier Del Rio, 42, and Francisco Estrella Galvan, 24, were asphyxiated while cleaning a 12-foot tall steel tank used to filter flax seed oil that Spectrum uses in a variety of organic food and health products. The tank had been filled with argon gas, which displaces oxygen.

Immediately after the April 25, 2002, accident, and again on Wednesday, Spectrum officials said they had the right training and equipment in place and expressed anguish over the deaths.
This is an interesting statement, considering Spectrum "admitted to willfully violating the law." And considering that
it's believed Galvan tried to rescue Del Rio after the older man fell unconscious after entering the tank. Petaluma police and Cal-OSHA investigators found the men lacked safety harnesses, oxygen monitors and breathing apparatus, all required under state regulations governing confined spaces, such as the tanks.
And how were they "trained" to test for oxygen deficiency? Throw a lighted match into the tank. I guess if it went out, there was no oxygen. This was probably a good way to tell if a confined space contained oxygen -- 100 years ago.

Spectrum was charged with two felonies, one count of violating the confined space law for each of the men. The fine was a result of a settlement where Spectrum agreed to pay over $200,000 to worker safety and confined space training programs at the Petaluma Police and Fire departments.

California, according to the NY Times series, When Workers Die, is a state that actively pursues criminal prosecutions against companies that kill workers.
State law changed in 2000, increasing potential penalties for workplace safety violations resulting in deaths from $75,000 to $1.5 million. The law also increased the exposure to criminal liability of a company and its officers