Sunday, August 07, 2005

The Finnish Formula: OSHA Fines Company $20 Billion For Worker Deaths

Well, not yet, but maybe if we take some lessons from Finland....

The Washington Post had a fascinating article about Finland, a country that actually takes seriously the vow "to provide equal opportunities in life for everyone," (unlike some countries I can think of.) You should read the entire article, but there was one paragraph that really hit me.

First, a little background.

As some of you long time readers may recall, I often complain of the insignificant fines assessed by OSHA on companies who kill workers, knowing full well that they are violating clear safe practices and OSHA standards. And even those government agencies that are permitted to assess significantly higher penalties (such as EPA) can't come close to even scraping the bottom line of America's largest corporations.

Last March I wrote a piece recalling a rather hefty fine ($230) that I had received for a minor traffic infraction in the fine city of Eugene, Oregon. I compared the percentage of my income that the traffic fine represented with the percentage of Wal-Mart's profits represented by an $11 million penalty that the company was assessed for hiring illegal immigrants.

After doing the math, I concluded that
If the Labor Department wanted to have the same impact on Wal-Mart that Eugene's finest had on me, Wal-Mart's fine would have been somewhere in the neighborhood of $650 million rather than $11 million.
So I was pleasantly surprised today to read that in Finland,
Finnish authorities know how much everyone earns, and they pro-rate traffic fines depending on the wealth of the malefactor. Last year the 27-year-old heir to a local sausage fortune was fined 170,000 euros, about $204,000 at the time of the fine, for driving at 50 miles per hour in a 25 mph zone in downtown Helsinki.
Just think of the possibilities....

Last month I wrote of how corporate giant Tyson Foods, with a 2004 profit of $403 million was fined a whopping $60,000 for the 1999 deaths of two workers at its animal feed plant in Robards, Ky.

So, using the Finnish formula, how does, say, $100 million per death sound? Think that would make them sit up and take notice in the Tyson corporate boardroom?

Moving on down to Texas City, BP Amoco the company whose plant exploded killing 15 and injuring 17 last March made $5.6 billion in profits during the second quarter of 2005. Doing the math -- 15 dead (divide, multiply, carry the 2...), 170 injured (add, subtract, carry the 5), I'd say a penalty of somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 billion would be fair.

Now, OSHA is required to issue citations in the BP explosion by the end of next month. So, I'm going to take this opportunity to announce The Great Confined Space BP Penalty contest. That's right, if you can guess the penalty that OSHA will assess BP, you win a prize (yet to be determined). We'll make the guesses public. Just use the comment link below. (And we're talking about just the BP penalty, not the other companies involved)

I'll go first. I'm going out on a limb and guessing that OSHA is going to be serious about this incident: $832,350 .

That's my guess. Go ahead, OSHA (and all the rest of you out there in the blogosphere), prove me wrong. Make my day.