There’s a good reason---a lifesaving reason---that machine guards and light curtains are installed on equipment. To prevent workers from being maimed or killed in them. But those safeguards weren't in place last August at the Wire Mesh Sales manufacturing plant in Jacksonville, Florida. The consequence was a 32 year old worker lost his life. The man was retrieving a metal bar that had fallen inside a piece of machinery. OSHA reports,
“he was struck and killed by a part that feeds the wire into the machine's welding area.”
How did it happen?
“The light curtain that would have automatically turned the machine off before he entered the danger zone had been disabled.”
OSHA’s post-fatality inspections do not usually surmise “why it happened,” but this case is different. OSHA indicates one possible factor. The plant’s 56 employees, most of whom were not native English speakers, were working 12-hour shifts, seven days per week.
Reports from survivors and their co-workers from other serious and fatal injury incidents have offered their views about “why these types of incident happen.” There’s production pressure and too few resources spent on maintenance. You’ll also hear them talk about too few employees, causing exhaustion in the workforce because of mandatory overtime. (Don’t get me started on the monthly reports: “another 30 days of increased worker productivity.’”)
Last week, Labor Secretary Tom Perez announced that OSHA has proposed penalties of $697,700 to Wire Mesh Sales. Eight of the violations were classified as “willful,” and OSHA recommends a $70,000 penalty for each. They relate to the employer's failure to have an effective procedures in place to ensure that equipment is de-energized and pad-locked off. These "lockout/tagout" violations were found on other pieces of equipment in the Jacksonville plant.
A slew of other violations, more than 20, involve hazards related to electrical systems, respiratory protection, blocked passageways, cranes, and overhead slings. Noise exposures in the plant were extreme and well above the permissible level, repeat violations for the company. And one violation reflects the employer's utter disrespect for the workforce:
There was a “bathroom with a sink that had been clogged for months with maggots swimming in standing water.”
Wire Mesh Sales operated in a reckless manner. A worker lost his life as a result. The company has a pattern of behavior that demonstrates their indifference to the safety of their workforce.
Companies that engage in perilous behavior such as this show utter disregard for human life. They shouldn’t have the right to remain in business. They should not a have a license to kill.
The answer for these types of cases is a "corporate death penalty" whereby a finding of a premeditated act leading to the death of a worker is treated as equivalent to "murder one", and the corporation is closed and its assets seized by government.
Egregious violators and their enablers will whine about the loss of jobs under those conditions, but potentially fatal jobs are worse than none, and the market will replace "executed" companies with new ones that are not at risk of facing "execution." After a couple of examples of corporate execution, investors will not willingly fund companies that play fast and loose with employees' lives.