Stronger Criminal Enforcement for Workplace Fatalities and Injuries

Eric Frumin and Ms. Morrow
Eric Frumin and Ms. Morrow

While testifying before the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections regarding stronger Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enforcement, Change to Win Health and Safety Coordinator Eric Frumin called for stronger criminal sanctions for ignoring safety hazards that lead to a worker’s death or serious injury. Frumin singled out Waste Management, Inc., the industrial laundry giant Cintas Corporation, steel pipe manufacturer McWane, Inc., and BP North America as examples of employers whose failure to fix known hazards led to fatalities.

The stepson of a Florida Waste Management mechanic who was gruesomely killed on the job testified as well. Jesus Rojas told the Subcommittee that his stepfather Raul Figueroa was nearly cut in half by a malfunctioning hydraulic arm on a garbage truck — and that the company attempted to backdate safety records after the incident. OSHA had cited Waste Management repeatedly, at locations throughout the country, for serious hazards.

The House Subcommittee held the hearing to examine a March 31, 2009 report by the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Labor regarding lapses under OSHA’s Enhanced Enforcement Program.

In addition to stronger criminal penalties, Frumin called for more comprehensive corporate-wide reporting of hazards, expanded OSHA investigatory capability, more national OSHA alerts on companies with “high severity” hazards, and enhanced corporate follow up.

“Companies like Waste Management should not be allowed to cut corners and compromise safety. They need to provide enough staff to make sure workers are safe on the job,” Mr. Rojas said during a powerful address to the Committee. “They need to be punished when they backdate safety records to cover up flaws in their safety procedures.”

Cintas worker Eleazar Torres-Gomez was killed in 2007 in the company’s Tulsa, OK, laundry after being pulled into a 300 degree dryer by an unguarded conveyor. OSHA cited the company’s Long Island facility for the same violations in 2005. Internal memos made public by the Wall Street Journal show that Cintas upper-management was aware that this lack of guarding could be fatal.

Frumin also called on Congress to pass the Corporate Injury, Illness, and Fatality Reporting Act introduced by Rep. Phil Hare, D-IL, earlier this week.

“OSHA needs to know where corporate leaders are hiding the evidence of mismanagement,” said Frumin. “The EEP still lacks the proper focus on multiple, severe workplace hazards and violations, and needs further strengthening.”

“Enforcement after workers die is not really enforcement at all. We need real change,” continued Frumin. “That is the change America voted for last year, and we are more than willing to work with Congress, with responsible employers, and with others to see that American workers receive that change.”