Posts Tagged ‘workplace deaths’

Felony for willful safety violations – legislation gaining traction?

Tuesday, August 17th, 2004

Ron Hayes has worked tirelessly to criminalize willful neglect of federal safety regulations, and some 11 years after he began his quest, legislation that would subject willful violators to felony charges appears to be gaining some traction. We wrote about Ron in April when he was testifying for the Corzine-Kennedy Wrongful Death Accountability Act. That bill was opposed by Commerce Secretary Donald Evans, who called it “just another policy to destroy jobs.” House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said the proposal would be “the worst thing that you could do – telling a small business person that they could go to prison over an OSHA violation.”
The proposed legislation is sponsored by Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., and observers think it may gain some support among Republicans. The Enzi bill caps penalties at an 18-month jail penalty rather than Corzine-Kennedy’s 10-year jail provision. This will bear watching when congress is back in session. Opponents think we should just enforce existing regulations, but that’s unlikely with OSHA growing “kinder and gentler’ with each passing year. Willful and serial safety violators who play fast and loose with workers’ lives violating basic safety standards need to be held accountable, and this accountability requires something more than a slap on the wrist.
Ron Hayes came by the courage of his convictions the hard way. His 19 year-old son was smothered when 60 tons of corn collapsed on him in a silo that he was cleaning for his employer, Showell Farms. Ron had little help from OSHA – in fact, he was stonewalled by the agency – despite the fact that Showell Farms was found to have six “willful violations”.
After losing his son, Ron quit his job as an X-ray technician, and he and his wife turned thier efforts to founding FIGHT – Families in Grief Holding Together to provide mutual support and to work to the prevention of future work deaths. Their motto: Mourn for the dead and fight for the living.
(Thanks to rawblogXport for pointing us to this story.)

Florida shuts down uninsured employer after two worker deaths

Thursday, August 5th, 2004

A few weeks ago, there was a horrific Florida construction accident that claimed the lives of two workers and injured several others. While laying concrete on the third floor of a new condominium complex, the roof collapsed. News reports of the accident were anguishing – many workers barely jumped to their safety, with others trapped by debris and hardening concrete, coworkers scrabbling frantically to save them. One man was trapped in concrete to his waist but managed to extricate himself before it hardened.
The following is an excerpt from a Florida Sun-Sentinel story after the accident:
“After the awful screeching of the collapsing luxury townhouse building, the first sounds Arturo Ruiz Gil heard were his co-workers’ cries for help.
The 20-year-old construction worker had just fallen 30 feet from the top of the building onto a wet concrete surface. Pushing aside the rubble, he managed to crawl out with his brother, Andres Ruiz Gil, and uncle, Valentin Ruiz, before the concrete hardened.
“We kneeled down, all three of us, and prayed to God and to the Virgin of Guadalupe to help us and help the ones who were trapped,” Andres Ruiz Gil, 19, said.
Two workers were killed and five were injured late Thursday afternoon when the third floor of the building under construction collapsed west of Hobe Sound. Another six construction workers at the Tranquility complex escaped injury, including a 13-year-old West Palm Beach boy.”

In the aftermath of the accident, the owner of Mac’s Construction and Concrete, the subcontracting company where the workers were employed, expressed regret calling the accident a “freak accident.”
Almost immediately, some unusual things were apparent. One of the workers who narrowly escaped injury was a 13 year-old boy, a potential violation of child labor laws. The subcontractor had a history of OSHA citations and fines. And more recently, it was learned that the subcontractor did not have workers compensation coverage for his employees as is mandated by law.
The state of Florida has recently been cracking down on just such employer fraud, and they stepped in slapping a stop work order on the construction subcontractor. (This linked story in Insurance Journal also has an interesting discussion from readers.) Under the law, the offending employer could be liable for fines of 1.5 times the amount of the coverage avoided a day in damages. Other fines and charges could be brought depending on the accident investigation. For example, most states are extremely strict in enforcing child labor laws.
This is a sad and terrible story for so many reasons. Rarely are fatal work accidents freak events – most could be prevented with adherence to safety rules and OSHA standards. It also echoes a shameful story we’ve addressed here before – the heightened vulnerability of Mexican workers whose on-the-job death rate is two to four times higher than other workers.
Related posts
Ohio Getting Tough on Premium Coverage
Dying at Work – Part I and Part II
Modern Day Slavery
More on immigrant workers
When Workers Die
Workers Comp and the Station Nightclub