Every day in America, 16 people die at work from employer negligence.
That’s the backdrop to 16 Deaths Per Day, a new video and website from the advocacy group Brave New Films, seeking to highlight the often-neglected issue of worker safety.
The video makes the point that employers who provide an unsafe work environment are almost never prosecuted in the event of a death of an employee. Even if they were, the crime of contributing to an employee’s death is only a misdemeanor, with a maximum prison sentence of six months and a maximum fine of $70,000. Under the Bush Administration, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) hardly ever referred cases to the Justice Department for prosecution, lowered fines for noncompliance so that they represented a minor cost of doing business, and underfunded the agency so it could never inspect worksites across America for unsafe conditions. In addition, OSHA protections currently do not apply to all public employees at the state or federal level.
The video takes a look at the stories of several workers. Travis Koehler, an employee at the Orleans Hotel in Las Vegas, and Tina Hall, from Toyo Automotive Parts USA, both died at their workplaces in accidents. The Orleans was found by OSHA to have broken the law, but were never referred for prosecution. 16 safety violations were found at the Toyo plant prior to the accident that killed Tina Hall, but the highest fine ever levied on the company was $7,000.
Members of Congress introduced a bill this April called the Protecting America’s Workers Act, which would tighten up worker safety laws, and give OSHA the ability to impose legitimate fines on noncompliant work sites, making the law adequate to deal with serious violators. Among other things, the bill would:
• Expand workplace protections to state, county, municipal, and federal employees who are not currently covered by the Occupational Safety and Health Act
• Increase financial penalties for those who kill or endanger workers
• Strengthen criminal penalties to make felony charges available for willful negligence causing death or serious injury
• Expand OSHA coverage to millions of other employees who fall through the cracks (like airline and railroad workers)
• Provide protection for whistleblowers
• Give employees the right to refuse hazardous work that may kill them
• Improve the rights of workers and families, requiring OSHA to investigate all cases of death
• Prohibit employers from discouraging reporting of injury or illness
(Disclosure: I am a blogger fellow with Brave New Films, the creator of this video and the 16 Deaths Per Day campaign)