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Published: December, 2009; Vol 6, Num 7

 

A Review:

16 Deaths Per Day: 16 Deaths Too Many

By Janet Lubman Rathner

16 Deaths Per Day, a new video from Brave New Films, brings these shocking, sobering circumstances to life by introducing the public to some of those who died due to employer indifference and negligence. In so doing, the graphic, five-minute short promotes support for the Protecting America’s Workers Act (H.R. 2067). Passage of this legislation would toughen enforcement of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and consequences for its violation. LIUNA strongly supports this legislation.

Protecting America’s Workers Act will:

  • 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/li>
  • Expand OSHA coverage to millions of employees who fall through the cracks (like airline and railroad workers)
  • Provide additional 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

Viewers meet Travis Koehler-Fergen, a maintenance worker at the Orleans Hotel in Las Vegas, who died after being ordered to enter an inadequately ventilated tunnel to assist a colleague in distress. A subsequent OSHA investigation found Boyd Gaming Corp., owner of the Orleans, guilty of “willful” negligence, but the citation was reduced to “serious” – shielding Boyd Gaming from costly litigation and fines – and the incident was never referred for prosecution. Then, there is the story of Tina Hall who was fatally injured in a fire at Toyo Automotive Parts USA in Franklin, Kentucky. Hall was not wearing necessary fire-retardant clothing and died after a worksite explosion left her with third-degree burns over 90 percent of her body. Prior to the accident that took her life, the Toyo plant had already been cited for 16 safety violations. The highest fine incurred by the company was $7,000.

Under current law, contributing to an employee’s death through negligence is a misdemeanor. The maximum penalty for this callous disregard is six months in prison and a $70,000 fine. For too many employers, the financial consequences for ignoring unsafe work conditions are little more than slaps on the wrist. Levied fines are just part of the cost of doing business. So minor, they provide little incentive to correct problems.

Going to work should not mean courting death. Employers must provide safe work environments and be held accountable if something goes wrong. Willful neglect should be severely punished to send a strong message to any employer who is dismissive of OSHA citations. Laborers and their families need the Protecting America’s Workers Act. To have your feelings heard regarding this important legislation, sign the petition at www.16deathsperday.com.