The Value of Human Life - Workplace Deaths By The Numbers

I opened the paper to find the following article last week:

"A Texas construction company is under investigation after one of its workers fell 70 feet to his death early Monday.

Victor Trevino, 36, of Williams Brothers Construction Co., Inc. was securing metal panels on the overpass connecting U.S. 281 to Loop 1604 when he lost his footing and fell through an opening just before 4 a.m. He was wearing a safety harness, but it was not connected, the police report said.

***

Williams Brothers Construction did not return calls for comment.  According to OSHA records, the firm has been cited 20 times for safety violations in Texas in the past 10 years. Citations varied in severity and ranged from “duty to have fall protection” to “working over or near water.”

Source: San Antonio Express News


This accident happened last week a block or two from my office.  Emergency crews were still there as I traveled past on my way to work.  Sadly, however, such tragedy is not all that unusual.  Stories similar to this appear in newspapers across the country everyday. 

Will the OSHA investigation determine that the company in this case did anything wrong?  I don't know. Should the company be concerned about being hit with prosecution or the levying of a large fine if they did?  Probably not.  Why not you ask?  Because protecting workers against deadly workplace accidents is not a high priority in this country.  
 
Don't believe me?  Let's check some numbers:
  • Number of workers killed in workplace accidents in 2010: 4,690
  • Number of those deaths attributable to falls from heights: 250
  • Average fine levied by OSHA against company as a result of a violation resulting in a worker's death: $7,900.00
Source: Center for Public Integrity
 
I don't know about you but less than $8,000.00 as a fine for a violation leading to the death of a worker makes it appear to me that workers' lives are not considered as a high priority item in this country.  
 
Let's compare it to this recent news item:

"The Supreme Court refused last Monday to hear an appeal from a Boston University student who was slapped with a $675,000 penalty for illegally downloading 31 songs and sharing them on the internet."

Source:  Fox News
 
That's $22,500 per song.
 
OK, so let's recap:
  • Fine for downloading a song: $22,500.00
  • Fine for OSHA violation resulting in death of a worker: $7,900.00

Some members of Congress think these numbers our out of whack...only not in the direction that you might think:

"Congressional Republicans are promising to scrub the government for what they say are "job killing" regulations. One of their primary targets is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA.

Republicans say OSHA enacts expensive rules without regard to their effect on business. They've proposed cutting its budget this year by 20 percent, a reduction the director says would be devastating to the agency's efforts to protect worker safety."

Source: NPR

 
There is an old adage that if you want to get the truth of a matter follow the money.  I think that is probably true more often than not and I don't think I like where following the money indicates our priorities currently are in this country.