Wednesday, November 16, 2005

What's Left To Do When Fines Don't Work (Hint: Start's with a "P" ends with an "n")

This is the kind of case where you wish OSHA had the ability to send an employer to jail without passing go and without a chance of a "Get Out of Jail Free" card.

A worker was crushed to death yesterday at the Jindal United Steel Works in Houston, Texas. The details about the accident haven't been released, but an enterprising reporter did take the time to check the company's past OSHA history, and guess what?
In a 40-page document from the U.S. Department of Labor, more than 100 citations for safety and health violations were listed for Jindal. The citations range from failure to correct crane hazards to serious health violations.

In October 2000, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration fined Jindal $1.7 million for 182 alleged violations.

Jindal's sister company, SAW Pipes USA, Inc., was fined $500,000 three months later by OSHA for 67 alleged willful violations for failing to document illnesses and injuries on the job.

OSHA noted the penalties against the company represents one of the largest record-keeping violations in years.
The citation, which you can view here, is still being appealed by the company.

The huge fine was mainly for recordkeeping violations, crimes that Senator Enzi (see below) would undoubtedly consider to be insignficant not even punishable if the employer fixed it within 72 hours.

But as the OSHA press release said at the time of the citation:
The inspection found that the company purposefully did not record numerous injuries and illnesses from 1998 through part of 2000, significantly lowering the company's lost workday illness and injury rate.

"Documenting workplace injuries and illnesses is a vital part of protecting our nation's workers," said OSHA Administrator Charles N. Jeffress. "Under our inspection targeting system, had this employer reported the correct injury and illness rate for 1998, the facility would likely have been placed on the list for a programmed inspection prior to the complaint that initiated this investigation."

Failing to record workplace injuries and illnesses is a serious deficiency, not merely a paperwork violation. Accurate records of injuries and illnesses help workers and employers identify hazards that require correction and help OSHA pinpoint worksites that need to do a better job of protecting workers.
And, as we saw yesterday, fraudulent recordkeeping may also be indicative of lousy safety conditions.