View Full Version : Dangerous Business Practices
Fri, 10th Jan '03, 8:09am
All about the criminally negligent business practices of McWane Inc-a group of pipe foundries.
here's some of the more horrifying excerpts from the stories
In the U.S., since 1995, they’ve been guilty of more than 400 health and safety violations in workplaces they own in 10 states. Since 1995, 4,600 workers have been injured in their foundries.
In 1999, four years after McWane bought a pipe foundry in Tyler, Texas, U.S. safety inspectors described conditions there in Dickensian terms in an official report: “Many workers have scars or disfigurations which are noticeable from several feet away. Burns and amputations are frequent… Throughout the plant in supervisors offices and on bulletin boards next to production charts is posted in big orange letters: REDUCE MAN HOURS PER TON.” there have also been 9 deaths since 1997 in McWane plants
Now, OSHA has known about this for years, yet no really significant penalties have been incured (with the exception of a million dollar fine in one of the fatality cases-the fines in the other cases ranged from $150k-$300k. Seems like fitting compensation for death, doesn't it? ) This is because the maximum penalty for a safety violation is $7,000. It is cheaper for McWane to pay the fine than upgrade the safety of their plants.
With that in mind, does the law need to be reworked to allow OSHA to impose harsh penalties for safety violations? Thoughts please.
[ January 10, 2003, 07:10: Message edited by: AMaster ]
Fri, 10th Jan '03, 9:47am
Heck yeah! I worked for a company (name withheld) that had some OSHA violations. Granted, it was a small business and the violations were nothing like what you said. But our safety was compromised I believe. We conducted programs for school kids. Our office was out of the owners home. Some of the demonstrations we did involved extremely flamable materials. There were stored in a pressboard cabinet. The owner never secured the proper permits for us to transport the chemicals from the office to the site were we were doing the programs. To top it all off, the cabinet was right next to a microwave and there was no fire extenguishers, fire alarms were not close by and there was no evacuation plan. When we questioned the owner she told us to keep quiet and not ask questions.
All it would have taken was one spark and poof. We called OSHA, but they told us there wasn't much that could be done. We were told OSHA was limited in penalties that could be applied and in our case the fines woudl be small, the owner would pay the fine and go on with out changing anything.
I know of friends who work in similar situations. Not much can be done.
What I am curious about is whether the workers at the McWane Inc were union or not. That may have helped them. Not all unions are the best, but were my wife works at the San Diego Wild Animal Park, they are Teamsters. Every single OSHA regulation is followed to a T.
Fri, 10th Jan '03, 10:11am
I don't know about all the plants, but the Tyler plant in Texas was union. Thing is, after the plant was bought out by McWane, they were having to hire 900 or so new people in one year-and there were only 1100 workers to begin with. See where are the union guys went? That, and the union had some sort of contract with the plant-hazy on details but it prevented any effective reaction
Fri, 10th Jan '03, 12:37pm
Hmm, in germany the business authority would have the competence to close the factory - as for a deadly factory as you described that would likely happen. However, for more normal cases, as they are politically subordinate .... local tax income and jobs in general are always a good argument these days. So there would probably be a compromise of some kind .... :almostmad:
This one field where the EU has had a very positive influence: Their guidelines have imroved enviromental and workspace protection to a good point :)
Fri, 10th Jan '03, 4:12pm
Having been on both sides of regulated industry (I worked for the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, then in a nuclear utility; later I was an environmental health and safety officer at a lab), let me point out that what the media reports as a "violation" may be something as small as not collecting an air sample on time. Now, I'm not trying to make excuses for McWane since I know NOTHING about this case other that what was said here. Also, there's no way to soft-pedal deaths or serious injuries.
I'm not sure where the number of $7,000 as a maximum fine is coming from. I know I've seen some significantly larger penalties, but it's been quite a while and my references are stale.
There's a lot more reform that would need to happen than just at OSHA (or EPA, for that matter). Let's say that the penalties were made significant and that the agency had a reasonable chance of enforcement. The first time they tried to go after a company with a Big Stick, chances are good the company would simply declare bankruptcy and shut its doors instead of paying the fine and fixing the problems.
People go into business to make money for themselves. Any jobs they create or shareholder benefits they pay are side effects.
Remember that the Bush administration's close ties to the business community make this scenario nothing more than idle speculation. :nolike:
Fri, 10th Jan '03, 7:16pm
I personally feel that the people who run that plant and make policy should be criminally prosecuted -- screw the OSHA fines. It appears to be reckless endangerment as for the people who didn't die and at least negligent homicide for the death. Worker's comp will throw a monkey wrench in the various individuals' rights to sue the company for this crap, so that is what more regulation gets you. There are plenty of existing laws for this behavior. Let's not load up with additional redundant laws, just use the ones we have.
Fri, 10th Jan '03, 7:30pm
@dmc What's your area of law practice? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think that OSHA has standing to pursue criminal charges. Their records could be used as evidence if the victims' families wanted to go that route, however.
The weapons that OSHA does hold are the multiplier that gets applied to any fine when the violation is found to have been caused by willful conduct and the DAILY penatly that can accrue when the deadline for making corrections has passed.
Sat, 11th Jan '03, 12:39am
@Rallymama - I'm a business litigator. I did not mean that OSHA should prosecute. They can, however, recommend such to the appropriate DA and/or Federal prosecutor. I just hate to see the reaction to any bad situation being "we need more laws." Look at that creep in Georgia with the funeral home/crematorium. What he did (improperly disposing of the bodies) broke many existing laws, for which he was prosecuted. Nonetheless, there was a great hue and cry to enact even more laws that would have been redundant. We've got enough laws already.