The news for workers has been bad lately across the globe. Of course, one of the worst disasters in history recently took place in Bangladesh when a factory collapsed due to failure to follow clearances and shoddy building materials. This collapse led to more than 1,100 deaths of workers. Unfortunately, news of this devastating accident is not the only bad news for workers in recent weeks.
Our Atlanta work injury attorneys know that the dangers that workers face are not exclusive to factories half a world away like those in Bangladesh. Workers right here in the United States are in grave danger, in large part because safety laws designed to protect employees are not being enforced effectively.
Workers at Risk in the United States
Within just a few days of the tragic factory collapse in Bangladesh, we were reminded that we also have some very dangerous worksites here in the United States. This tragic reminder occurred when a West Texas Fertilizer plant exploded and caused fourteen deaths and more than 200 injuries. While the explosion happened at night and there were few employees of the plant injured or killed, the explosion still raised questions about what conditions were like at the plant.
It turned out, unfortunately, that federal regulators really had no idea what conditions were like there. This is because the fertilizer plant had not been inspected since 1985. A dangerous plant storing explosive material like the fertilizer plant was storing should have been high on the list of priorities as far as workplace inspections, so this incident could naturally raise questions of where OSHA was and why no one was keeping tabs on what was going on.
Unfortunately, the AFL-CIO’s 2013 report “Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect” answers the question of where OSHA was: overworked, understaffed and unable to perform inspections that they need to perform.
According to the AFL-CIO:
- There are 837 federal OSHA inspectors available to oversee and regulate more than 8 million workplaces. Even with the 837 inspectors working full time, the significantly shortage of OSHA staff means that a workplace would be inspected just about once every 131 years.
- There are very limited penalties imposed on employers who break OSHA safety rules, even when an employer violation leads to death. Criminal charges are very rare since a criminal case is brought only if a willful violation is the cause of an employee’s death. These types of cases have been brought only 84 times since 1970 when many worker protection laws were passed. Without criminal enforcement, fines are supposed to act as a deterrent. Unfortunately, the median amount that is paid after settlement if a worker dies at work is just $5,715. The fine is even lower for simple citations, at an average of $2,156.
The news of this AFL-CIO report raises serious concerns about whether enough is being done to protect workers in the United States. The West Texas fertilizer plant is solid proof that a failure to inspect can have very real consequences, and the tragic collapse in Bangladesh serves as an important warning about what could happen here in the U.S. if regulators don’t have the power to make employers play by the rules when it comes to workplace safety.
If you were the victim of a work accident in Atlanta, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., to speak with an experienced attorney. For a free consultation call 1-404-303-7770 today.
Illnesses & Injuries Cause Days Away From Work, Atlanta Work Injury Lawyer Blog, March 25, 2013