Friday, July 07, 2006

If 'Safety Pays,' Then Why Should Taxpayers?

This is an interesting idea that raises some troubling issues:
A little over a year after explosions and fire rocked BP's refinery in Texas City, Texas – claiming the lives of 15 workers – the city of Texas City is offering tax incentives to entice local industrial facilities to become certified in OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program (VPP).

"We applaud Texas City's leaders for this proactive and unprecedented effort that promotes not only a safer industrial district, but a safer community," said R. Davis Lane, executive director of the VPP Participants Association. "VPP can significantly improve a facility's safety performance."

Texas City officials outlined and approved the plan at their June 7 City Commission meeting.

The language in the tax code provision states that if an industrial entity has achieved OSHA VPP certification, the facility's owner is entitled to a 20 percent tax abatement each year for 5 years (from the second year after it receives certification through the seventh year), provided the owner maintains VPP designation.
So what's wrong with that?
  1. If safety pays, as OSHA constantly reiterates, then why should the taxpayers subsidize companies' safety programs on top of the extra profit the company is receiving by doing the right thing? Why should the taxpayers pay a company to take measures to ensure a safe workplace -- essentially to comply with the law? One could argue that VPP status means going beyond the law, but OSHA standards are only meant to be a safety floor anyway. Companies should go beyond that because it's the right thing to do, not because they'll get a tax incentive. It's kind of like giving kids money for getting good grades.

  2. VPP and similar programs are already plagued with stories of workers being pressured not to report injuries that might endanger their VPP status. Won't this just add more incentive to cover-up safety problems?
More corporate welfare, if you ask me.