Bloomberg Business Week recently featured a story about the South’s manufacturing renaissance. The article, by Peter Waldman, is titled Inside Alabama’s Auto Jobs Boom: Cheap Wages, Little Training, Crushed Limbs.
The workplace injuries and deaths described are simply horrific. Here are a few examples:
- A female employee at auto parts supplier Ajin USA was impaled while trying to fix a robot. The robot unexpectedly turned on and impaling her upper body with a pair of welding tips. Ajin, per OSHA, had never given workers safety locks and training on how to use them.
- A male employee lost his arm. This happened after a heated die press that stamps metal parts slammed onto his arms. He was trapped like this for an hour while his flesh burned inside the heated press. When emergency crews finally freed him, his left hand was “flat like a pancake.”
- In 2015, a 33-year-old technician suffered third-degree burns all over his upper body at Nakanishi Manufacturing Corp.’s plant in Winterville, Ga. This incident happened after four previous fires in the factory’s dust-collection system. Last year, OSHA levied a $145,000 fine (later negotiated down to $105,000).
Bloomberg reported that the incidents of workplace injuries far outpaced the rest of the country, in particular Michigan. Specifically,
[T]he incidence of traumatic injuries in Alabama’s auto parts plants remains 9 percent higher than in Michigan’s and 8 percent higher than in Ohio’s. In 2015 the chances of losing a finger or limb in an Alabama parts factory was double the amputation risk nationally for the industry, 65 percent higher than in Michigan and 33 percent above the rate in Ohio.
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OSHA records obtained by Bloomberg document burning flesh, crushed limbs, dismembered body parts, and a flailing fall into a vat of acid. The files read like Upton Sinclair, or even Dickens.
These examples are typical of recent violations. Here are a couple of examples:
- In Sec’y of Labor v. Martin Mech. Contractors, Inc., (4/17/17), a Georgia contracting company whose employee died after falling through a skylight was assessed a $49,000 penalty. It was determined the company had inadequate fall protection training program.
- Exide Technologies, a Kansas battery maker, faces $149K fine over lead hazards for failing to protect workers from overexposure to lead at its manufacturing plant in Kansas. Exide was cited by the OSHA for one serious and three repeat violations.
Work Place Fatality Was on the Decline
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the number of deaths for every 100,000 full-time worker equivalents declined from 4.2 to 3.7 during the Bush administration. Further declines continued under the Obama administration going from 3.6 to 3.3.
However, there is cause for concern these reductions in worker mortality may cease. This is because, within days of taking office, President Trump invited American manufacturers to recommend ways the government could cut regulations. The Department of Labor was the second most popular target in comments submitted. The Environmental Protection Agency was the number of one target.
Further, the Trump administration has proposed to cut the Labor Department’s fiscal year 2018 budget by 21 percent. And President Trump has insisted on eliminating two rules for every new rule.
President Trump ran on a promise to make America Great Again. But that America may not be so great for factory workers and other blue-collar employees when it comes to workplace safety. Hopefully, things won’t get worse.