Workers who call our office after an injury often describe unsafe practices that needlessly put lives at risk. Sometimes, supervisors disregard safety in an effort to complete a single task or meet a production demand on time. Other times, the lack of safety is company-wide and simply the way that company conducts its business.
Either way, the risk usually falls on workers and their families. Companies should create a culture of safety that prevents personal injury or death. Previously, I have written how the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act unfairly places the burdens of safety on workers instead of corporations.
A recent event in Huntsville shows that a worker does have another method to address safety concerns when his bosses will not act safely. Recently, a worker at a local company claims he was fired when he refused to go back into a trench after an earlier collapse. After being fired, he called OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration). Below is a link to the story about this incident on the website of a local news channel.
After investigating the claims of this whistleblower, OSHA issued a $122,400 fine against the company, Don Kennedy & Sons. Here is a link to the OSHA news release. Collapses and cave-ins of trenches are a major safety issue. Many personal injuries and deaths result each year when unprotected trenches collapse. My observations of this story are as follows:
- The dangers of trenches are well-known in the construction industry. Additionally, the rules for protecting workers are well-known and easily followed. So, employers have no excuse for allowing a dangerous safety failure in this area.
- The amount of fine in this case is large. While I don’t know all the facts of OSHA’s investigation, the amount of the fine indicates OSHA found serious problems, such as multiple violations. The OSHA press release indicates that the company intentionally or knowingly violated the rules.
- Workers do have a voice. This worker lost his job. But, his refusal to act unsafely may have prevented his later injury. And, his courage in reporting the violation may have saved other workers from personal injury or death.