Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Whipping Workplace Killers With A Feather

Heber Taylor, writing in the Galveston County Daily News about the catastrophic BP Texas City refinery explosion last year tries to put into proper perspective the ineffectiveness of OSHA enforcement and regulatory agencies' reluctance to force companies into actions that may cost "too much money"
That reluctance with corporate giants is odd, given that regulators routinely force ordinary people to spend money on safety.

Imagine taking your car to get its inspection sticker. Suppose the inspection reveals the brakes are bad.

Do you get off the hook by claiming that new brakes cost too much?

And, if you failed to get new brakes and then drove your car through a crowd, would you expect to get off with a light fine?
According to Taylor, that's exactly the same situation where BP was let off with an insignificant fine for killing 15 workers and injuring 170, even though OSHA had fined the company numerous times before and warned them of the danger of the blowdown drum that later tragically (but predictably) failed.

And Taylor also doesn't buy the argument that the free market or "economic incentives" adequately encourage employers to do the right thing.
The argument against giving regulators this kind of authority is that economic incentives are more effective. It’s a weak argument.

BP, anticipating the costs of settling with the families of the dead and injured, posted a single-quarter loss of $700 million because of the March 23 explosions.

At the same time it was experiencing that huge loss, it reported a substantial increase in profits, and John Browne got a raise.

Old-fashioned regulations have gone out of fashion. They are reviled as interfering with the ability of corporations to make a competitive profit.

That’s nonsense in this case.

Now that 15 are dead, BP’s replacing the infamous blow-down stacks that were at the center of the tragedy. Whatever that cost, BP seems to have survived it. The company posted a $19 billion profit for 2005, a 25 percent increase from the year before.

As it stands today, some federal officials have a responsibility to protect the safety of workers. But they don’t have the authority to compel reluctant companies to take action. They ought to have that authority.
More on the BP Texas City explosion here.