Roger Kerson/National COSH
OSHA released a white paper in 2012 that estimated the total cost of a workplace fatality ndash legal costs medical costs training lost productivity etc ndash at 87 million

He Died Standing: Tales from the ‘Dirty Dozen’

April 26, 2017
National COSH solicited input from its network of 21 COSH groups around the country as well as worker advocates and labor groups to determine the 12 employers who most egregiously put their employees and communities at risk.

The "Dirty Dozen 2017" report – which highlights 12 companies that put workers and communities at risk due to unsafe practices – was released on April 26 in observance of Workers’ Memorial Week, which honors workers who lost their lives on the job and their families.

The list was created by the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) with input from its network of 21 COSH groups in 15 states and worker advocates around the country. Criteria for inclusion included severity of injuries to workers, exposure to unnecessary and preventable risk, repeat citations by relevant state and federal authorities and activity by workers to improve their health and safety conditions.

The report notes that fatal workplace injuries have been falling since 1970 – the year the Occupational Safety and Health Act was signed into law. In 1970, 13,800 workers died on the job from acute occupational injuries. In 2015 – the most recent year available from the Bureau of Labor statistics – the number of workers who died on the job was 4,836; a 65 percent decline in workplace fatalities.

OSHA released a white paper in 2012 that estimated the total cost of a workplace fatality – legal costs, medical costs, training, lost productivity, etc. – at $8.7 million, which means that 4,836 fatalities carry a cost burden of some $420 billion.

Jordan Barab, former deputy assistant secretary for OSHA, mentioned that an anticipated move away from strong enforcement by the agency toward a greater focus on compliance assistance and cooperative programs, could result in more workplace injuries, particularly if combined with a proposed budget cut for OSHA of 21 percent. Such a move would be “pennywise and pound foolish,” said Barab, who compared OSHA’s annual budget of $550 million to OSHA's estimated cost per fatality. (In addition, Liberty Mutual estimates the total cost to business of non-fatal work-related injuries and illnesses to be more than $1 billion per week.)

“The dangerous conditions at these 'Dirty Dozen' companies show why we need more enforcement of our safety laws, not less,” said Barab. “Proposed budget cuts for OSHA and other safety agencies are pennywise and pound foolish. Preventing injuries, illnesses and fatalities in the workplace not only reduces a terrible toll of human suffering – it also saves billions of dollars for employers and taxpayers.”

The Dirty Dozen

The Dirty Dozen are listed alphabetically in the report, but the list starts with a company that achieved notoriety due to a pair of horrific worker deaths and the recent indictment on manslaughter charges of both the company – Atlantic Drain Services – and its owner, Kevin Otto. In October 2016, Robert Higgins and Kelvin Mattocks were buried alive and drowned in an unsupported trench in an incident that sent shockwaves through the greater Boston area, said Jeff Newton, membership and communications coordinator for the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH).

“It was a horrific event. It took place on a very busy street,” remembered Newton. “It took hours for firefighters to extract them from the trench. One of them was found in a standing position, indicating he had been completely encased in soil and debris.”

The incident was so horrifying and caused such outrage in the Boston area that state senators are seeking to increase the penalty for corporate manslaughter, from the current fine of $1,000 – set nearly 200 years ago – to $250,000. In addition, said Newton, the city of Boston now refuses to issue work permits to companies with a history of repeat OSHA violations.  

The other 11 companies, the location of their headquarters and reasons they were included on the list are:

California Cartage, Long Beach, Calif. – Death of a driver, serious violations in California and Georgia, lack of machine safeguards, faulty brakes and other dangerous hazards.

Dedicated TCS, Lansing, Mich. – Worker died in a confined space, company cited three times for similar violations, $226,000 in OSHA fines.

Dollar General, Goodlettsville, Tenn. – “A fire disaster waiting to happen,” over 100 citations and $1 million in fines for blocked exits, former Labor Department official called for criminal prosecution.

Environmental Enterprises Inc., Spring Grove, Ohio – Worker killed in fiery chemical explosion, OSHA described a “complete disregard for employee safety, indictment for involuntary manslaughter and reckless homicide.

Fuyao Glass America, Dayton, Ohio – No gloves allowed in a glass plant, 23 serious OSHA violations, extensive complaints from workers who are at serious risk of amputation injuries.

Nissan USA, Franklin, Tenn. – Five workers killed in five years, $99,000 in proposed OSHA fines, workers fear retaliation or job loss if they report injuries.

Pilgrim’s Pride, Greeley, Colo. – Worker fatality, numerous OSHA citations at facilities across the country over the past 5 years, amputations, exposure to toxic chemicals.

Primeflight, Nashville, Tenn. – Exposure to bloodborne pathogens, 22 OSHA violations in 3 years, conditions “likely to cause death or serious harm.”

TransAm Trucking, Olathe, Kan. – “Frozen trucker” case in which a driver, after waiting several hours for help in freezing weather when the brakes on his trailer froze, unhitched the trailer and drove off to seek warmth and was fired by his employer. (The heater in the truck cab was broken.) After a 7-year court battle, the driver won $280,000 in back pay.

Samsung Seoul, South Korea – 200+ serious illnesses, 76 deaths, refusal to disclose information because of trade secrets, alleged secret plan uncovered to “dominate employees” and “punish leaders” who support employees.

Valley Garlic, Coalinga, Calif, and X-Treme AG, Kerman, Calif. – Four migrant workers died in crash of illegal transport van, Department of Labor lawsuit, contractor enjoined from transporting agricultural workers.

Former Nissan worker Everlyn Cage said that she was injured twice while working at the company. The first time, in 2007, she suffered a repetitive motion injury that required surgery on disks in her upper back. She returned to work in 2009 and was injured again in 2012, this time to her lower back. When she suffered the injury, she asked her supervisor if she could go to the medical clinic on site. He allegedly told her that she needed to finish her shift. She did and when she was done with her work rotations, he met her with a permission form to visit the onsite clinic. She refused and instead went to the emergency room. Her personal physician recommended an extended leave from work and after a year, Cage was fired from Nissan.

Employees suffered “pretty horrific injuries, major injuries” at the Nissan facility, according to Cage, but “were afraid to report them, afraid they’d be fired.” Employees suffering injuries she felt required a trip to the emergency room were instead directed to the on-site medical clinic, where “they were given ibuprofen and sent back to work.”

“Every day in the United States, workers are getting hurt, getting sick and dying from preventable causes,” said Martinez. “We know how to make our workplaces safer. We’re calling on these companies to implement effective health and safety programs including, which must include worker participation. These firms need to eliminate workplace hazards and take action so that every worker can return home safely at the end of his or her shift.”

Tomorrow: More details about some of the companies listed on the “Dirty Dozen.”

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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