At a recent Senate hearing, former OSHA Assistant Secretary Jerry Scannell (1989-1993) described the pressure he often felt, especially from lawyers inside and outside the agency, to settle inspection and fatality-investigation cases by using ”discount factors” to reduce monetary penalties. He recalled wondering, “What are we, a discount house?” Reporter Andy Pierrotti with WSPA-TV (Spartanburg/Greenville, SC) has found exactly the same “discount house” mentality through his investigation of SC-OSHA. His story is entitled “Discounted Lives.”
Pierrotti assembled record from the last four years to demonstrate how SC-OSHA, reduce assessed penalties in order to settle cases against the employers responsible for the workers’ deaths. He also relays the shock of family members after learning how already nominal fines become meaningless through the settlement process.
The monetary penalty assessed against 22-year old Travis Wood’s employer was reduced from $15,225 to $2,700. The young Mr. Wood died in April 2007 from a 31-foot fall at Automated Distribution Center in Gaffney, SC.
Mrs. Carma Magnani’s husband Ronald, 59, was severely injured at work and later died at the hospital. His employer, Cryovac, was initially fined $3,500 which was reduced to $1,500.
The WSPA reporter Pierrotti found examples of penalty reductions even for companies with repeat injuries and violations.
Our investigation also found reduced fines involving companies with repeat accidents or violations, like the Michelin plant in Sandy Springs. In 2006, one person died from burns involving an exposed water pipe. A few months later, another Michelin worker’s arm, crushed and then amputated, after getting caught in a machine. While both accidents involved clear safety violations, both fines: significantly cut through settlement agreements.
Pierrotti’s assessment “Discounted Lives” is a MUST read.