The 4,551 people who were killed on the job in American workplaces in 2009 represent “carnage that eclipsed the total number of U.S. fatalities in the nine-year Iraq war … Yet the typical fine for a worker death is about $ 7,900,” iWatch News’ Jim Morris points out in a look at the limitations of Occupational Safety and Health Act enforcement in the United States.
We know that it would take the Occupational Safety and Health Administration more than 130 years to inspect all the workplaces under its jurisdiction. Morris details how this is combined with OSHA inspectors being under relentless pressure to carry out more investigations—sometimes at the cost of thorough investigations. That can happen even on investigations of fatal accidents, as appears to have been the case in the investigation of the 2009 explosion that killed Nick Revetta. U.S. Steel, which owned the plant where Revetta was working as a contractor, was not cited or fined in Revetta’s death, despite having put relentless pressure on contractors to work quicker. The investigator looking into the explosion did make a major effort, but:
[E]mails obtained by the Center for Public Integrity show that Laughlin’s requests for help went unanswered, and he was pulled off the investigation by a supervisor striving to meet inspection goals.
“My problem is at what point do we give up quality for quantity,” Laughlin wrote in an appeal to a higher-ranking OSHA official in Philadelphia in November 2009. “I need some guidance because I’m torn and my spirit is broken because of the need to complete this case to the best of my ability.”
The official advised Laughlin to “relax” and use the weekend to “go out and hit some [golf] balls!”
Nick Revetta left a wife, two children and a brother. In 2010, 17 workers were sent to the hospital by another explosion at the plant he died in. None of this is inevitable—the U.S. has much higher workplace fatality rates than many other industrialized nations. But Republicans continue to stand firmly in the way of improving safety regulations and oversight.