The Boston Globe’s Megan Woolhouse reported earlier this week on a civil lawsuit against construction contractors and Walmart for the wrongful death of Romulo de Oliveira Santos, 47. The Brazilian immigrant and a crew of other workers were assigned to tear down the ceilings and walls on the night of September 8, 2008 at a Walmart in Walpole, Massachusetts. The workers weren’t made aware of the live electrical wires, and Santos was electrocuted and fatally burned. Woolhouse writes the victim’s family seeks:
“$5 million in damages from Walmart and two subcontractors, alleging the conditions that led to Santos’ electrocution are part of a pattern of unsafe practices at Walmart construction sites, including the hiring of unlicensed contractors and so-called straw men to obtain local permits.”
It’s a legal strategy to hold the global retail giant responsible for the actions of its construction contractors. The case is being heard in a Massachusetts Superior Court.
I couldn’t help but notice the reference to OSHA’s investigation of Mr. Santos’ death. Woolhouse indicates that Walmart was not sanctioned by OSHA, but reported that two firms hired by Walmart to perform the work received OSHA citations. Marcy Goldstein-Gelb of the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH) told the Globe reporter how this case illustrates the deficiency in our worker safety regulatory system, where contractors are sanctioned, but their corporate clients are not held accountable.
Here’s what I learned today about the sanctions imposed by OSHA following Mr. Santos’ death. His employer, Italo Masonry, was cited in March 2009 for 8 serious violations for electrical hazards, unsafe scaffolds, and inadequate training and accident prevention programs. OSHA proposed a $9,300 penalty. T&M Electric was also cited by federal OSHA for five serious violations of electrical and other standards. OSHA proposed a $6,450 penalty.
Sounds like OSHA was trying to hold someone accountable, right? Maybe not Walmart, but at least the contractors involved in the work that led to Mr. Santos’ death.
The problem is, neither firm has paid the fine. A Labor Department spokesperson confirmed that neither Italo Masonry nor T&M Electric paid the monetary penalty, and both cases have been referred for debt collection. It appears both firms are still in business.
How effective is a sanction if it is simply ignored?