A recent report from the National Council on Occupational Safety and Health looks at which companies in America (and one in South Korea) have the worst records when it comes to on-the-job worker fatalities. The report, “The Dirty Dozen“, looks at the 12 employers that put their workers at risk due to unsafe workplace practices.
During the 2015 work year, a total of 4836 workplace deaths due to on-the-job trauma took place in the United States, up from 4821 in 2015 and 4585 in 2013. This is the highest number of work-related deaths since 2008 when there were 5214 fatal injuries. In addition to deaths from workplace trauma, an estimated 95000 American workers also die on an annual basis from long-term occupational sicknesses and an additional 3 million workers experience workplace injuries every year. On the upside, since 1970 when the Occupational Health and Safety Act was signed into law, the number of annual workplace deaths has dropped by 65 percent from 13,800 (a rate of 18 per 100,000 workers) to its current level of 3.4 per 100,000 workers as shown on this graphic:
The National Council on Occupational Safety and Health selected its 12 worst workplace fatality offenders by looking at the severity of injuries workers, exposure to unnecessary and preventable risk, repeated citations by state and federal authorities and activity by workers to improve health and safety conditions. Now, let’s look at a summary of the “Dirty Dozen” in alphabetical order:
1.) Atlantic Drain Services of Rosalinda, MA – On October 21, 2016two workers drowned in a trench when a pipe burst at an excavation site. Atlantic Drain had not taken any steps to ensure that the walls of the trench were shored up. The OSHA identified the company as a “severe violator” after the company had been cited repeatedly for safety violations including failure to observe trench safety rules. The OHSA proposes fines of $1.4 million for 18 safety violations related to these two deaths.
2.) California Cartage of Long Beach, CA – A truck driver was killed after being run over by his own trailer. In November 2016, Cal/OSHA cited the company for repeated safety lapses at one of its warehouses, mainly related to operating unsafe forklifts and unstable docks and ramps. The company was also cited for four serious safety violations including using unsafe ladders, exposure to falling objects which resulted in a fine of $11,250.
3.) Dedicated TCS of Lansing, IL – On October 8, 2015, one man was killed when three men climbed into a railway tanker to clean the interior and were overcome due to a lack of oxygen. The company did not have functioning gas meters, proper lighting or rescue equipment available at the worksite where the incident took place. A similar incident occurred 10 months earlier and resulted in a citation from OSHA and was the third time in two years that OSHA had issued similar violations against Dedicated TCS.
4.) Dollar General of Goodlettsville, TN – The Tennessee-based retailer operates more than 12,000 locations employing more than 100,000 employees across the United States. OSHA has found repeated violation where store exits are blocked with merchandise and fire extinguishers are unmarked, conditions which could lead to a disaster if a fire were to take place. Since 2010, OSHA has cited the company more than 100 times and has assessed more than $1 million in fines.
5.) Environmental Enterprises, Inc. of Spring Grove, OH – On December 28, 2012, a 20 year old employee was given permission to use an electric saw in the vicinity of flammable materials, resulting in an explosion and fire that severely injured two workers, one of whom died later in hospital. OSHA cited the company for 22 safety law violations which resulted in a fine of $45,000. The company was also indicted by Ohio’s Attorney General for charges including involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, tampering with records and tampering with evidence resulting from the company falsifying training records to make it appear that proper employee safety training had taken place.
6.) Fuyao Glass America of Dayton, OH – Workers in the plant where glass products are handled and cut are not allowed to use safety gloves. Workers are exposed to electrical hazards, are using dangerous chemicals without training and use machinery without proper guarding. The OSHA has cited the company for 23 serious violations and recommended over $223,000 in fines.
7.) Nissan USA of Franklin, TN – On November 16, 2016, a maintenance worker was killed when he was struck on the head by a 1275 pound counterweight while checking on repairs to a conveyor belt. Over a four year period from January 2012 to June 2013, another three workers were killed at the same Nissan plant located in Smyrna, TN. Another Nissan worker in Canton lost three fingers while repairing a conveyor belt; Nissan has been cited six times for safety violations at the Canton plant.
9.) PrimeFlight of Nashville, TN – OHSA has cited the company which provides a range of outsourcing services to the airline industry including hazardous material cleanups for 22 health and safety violations at various airports over the past three years . These violations included failing to provide protection against blood borne pathogens and hazardous chemicals as well as allowing employees to use unsafe transport vans and lift trucks.
10.) Samsung of Seoul, South Korea – Samsung, Korea’s largest company and a manufacturer of consumer technological devices including televisions, cell phones and computers, is a significant user of highly toxic chemicals. More than 200 cases of serious illnesses among employees (mostly young women between the ages of 20 and 40) have occurred including lupus, leukaemia and lymphoma, 76 of which have resulted in death. Samsung refuses to disclose information on the chemicals used sing they are deemed “trade secrets”.
11.) TransAm Trucking of Olathe, KS – In 2009 when a trucker employed by TransAm discovered that the brakes on his truck trailer were frozen, he was told to wait in below-freezing temperatures for roadside assistance by the company. The heater in his truck was broken and he was forced to disconnect the disabled trailer from the cab and fuel up and warm up at a nearby gas station after spending a freezing night in his cab. He was fired when he returned to company headquarters. He appealed the decision based on the OSHA which gives workers the right to refuse work that they consider to be unsafe to themselves or other workers. In 2016, he received $280,000 in back pay after a successful court appeal.
12.) Valley Garlic of Coalinga, CA and X-Treme AG of Kerman, CA – On June 20, 2015, a passenger van being driven by an unlicensed driver and carrying migrant workers from fields near Gilroy, CA to worker housing 85 miles away, spun out of control, killing four women. The decedents were employed by X-Treme AG, a farm labor contractor who supplied workers for Valley Garlic. Valley Garlic’s contract with the company specifically forbid the contractor from transporting day labourers. In October 2016, an injunction from U.S. District Court Judge Anthony Ishii has prohibited the contractor from transporting farm labourers.
Looking further at a statistical analysis of workplace deaths, we find that fatal injuries in 2015 involving foreign-born workers were at the highest level since 2007. Workers aged 45 years and older suffered 58 percent of workplace fatalities but accounted for just 45 percent of hours worked in 2015. Seventeen percent of workers who died on the job in 2015 were temporary, contract or contingent employees.
As well can see, while workplace fatalities have declined significantly since the early 1970s, the recent upswing in deaths is concerning. It is obvious that some employers cut corners when it comes to workplace safety, an issue that becomes even more prevalent when profits are under threat. It is necessary that all workplace deaths be thoroughly investigated and that employers be held accountable to ensure that future safety violations are deterred.
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