Small Fines, Low Punishments for Deaths on the Job

FAIRFIELD, Ohio—David Geiger, a 53-year-old maintenance man was killed by asphyxiation at a bowling alley in Fairfield, Ohio called Northwest Lanes when the hood of his sweatshirt was caught in the pin-setting machine on November 5th, 2014.


Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) proposed fining the alley’s owner $45,500 and issued eight safety violations after an investigation concluded that Northwest Lanes did not have guard rails and lockout/tagout measures to prevent workers from being exposed to dangerous parts of moving machinery.


In the past year, 4,584 other workers were killed in preventable workplace accidents. The ratio of workers killed has dropped from 3.4 deaths per 100,000 workers to 3.3/ 100,000, but that number is still too high according to OSHA Director Dr. David Michaels, unions, and pro-worker organizations.


In 2013, construction was an especially dangerous field: 828 construction workers died at work, mostly from falls. In 2013, the number of deaths at construction sites increased by 32 deaths from 2012. In all industries last year, 724 workers died from slips, trips, and falls, which is 25 more deaths than the year before.


Just before Workers Memorial Day on April 28, the National Council on Occupational Safety and Health released a document called Not An Accident: Preventable Deaths 2015, which examines the annual work-related deaths in the United States. This includes deaths on the job, the 50,000 deaths every year from diseases contracted over years on the job, like black lung, and the fines employers are charged with for deaths.


Lawmakers have ignored the complaints from unions to strengthen OSHA enforcement and increase the employer fines for not abiding by safety and health standards, except when large tragedies occur—like the Upper Big Branch disaster in West Virginia that killed 29 coal miners.


In fact, standards continue to decline at the hands of Republicans like those in West Virginia who passed a law weakening the state’s mine safety standards, despite heavy lobbying and objections from the Mine Workers.


Employers and companies see the small fines—that are often negotiated down by companies to be much less after bargaining with safety officials—and lack of jail sentences, even when workers are killed on the job, as “a cost of doing business,” according to the executive director of the National Committee on Occupational Safety and Heath Mary Vogel.


Peter Dooley, an occupational safety and health consultant for the national committee, says layering enforcement and worker empowerment to speak up about safety violations could prevent future CEOs, like Don Blankenship of the Upper Big Branch, from violating safety rules to make more profits at the expense of working health and safety.


“Better enforcement, more criminal prosecutions and more publicity are all tools” to make jobs safer, empower workers, and provide education, training, and individual worker protective devices, says Dooley.


Source: PAI