The article title says it all — Even After Workplace Deaths, Companies Avoid OSHA Penalties. It’s a long article but a good read if you are interested in learning more about the impact of OSHA enforcement activities on safety in the workplace.
The story begins with a fatality at a steel mill in another state. Then, midway through the article, the author relates the story of a tragic work-related death in Alabama. In the Alabama case, a roofing contractor employee fell to his death because his employer failed to provide any fall protection and failed to guard against the fall hazards. This is a death that could have easily been prevented. The hazards were well known to the owner of the roofing contractor but not to the employees he hired and placed on the job without training. After inspecting the site of the fatality, OSHA issued fines to the employer.
The Alabama contractor’s complete failure to provide any safety protection is bad enough. Yet, the story gets worse. According to the OSHA inspector, the Alabama contractor placed safety guards at the scene after the death and then tried to lie to the inspector by claiming the materials were at the scene before the fall. I have seen employers attempt to change accident scenes in many of my past personal injury cases. In just the last few years, I have handled cases where a contractor on a Huntsville project purchased safety guards at a local hardware store after the accident to try and alter the scene. In another case, the owner of a Huntsville wrecker company purchased safety devices after a serious crush injury and tried to claim he had them before the accident. In a third case, a Decatur company claimed a warning light was prominently flashing at the time of the accident despite denials by all the other witnesses on the scene.
After being fined, the contractor in the article simply chose to ignore the penalties. He did not defend his actions. He did not pay the fines. He did nothing. His explanation for ignoring the fines — “Even if we had had the money, I would have refused to pay.” Should a contractor with so little regard for safety and human life be allowed to manage projects in the future? That’s the question I have. That’s the question we should all ask. The article answers this question. Despite no regard for safety or the authority of OSHA, the man who operated this company still works construction projects. He simply closed his company and went to work as a consultant for another contractor. He continues to be responsible for the safety and lives of workers in Alabama. Will another death or a severe personal injury occur because OSHA enforcement failed in this case?
by Jeff Blackwell