Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Corporate Trickery

Shifting the blame following a worker's death.

If you've ever lost someone to a workplace fatality. You already know how much harder surviving the loss becomes with each company statement issued to the media. All of us here at Screw You Construction are extremely sorry for your loss John Doe will be greatly missed by all of us and rest assured we will do everything in our power to asses what caused the accident while conducting our own investigation into whether or not John Doe was following all safety procedures.

To the untrained eye statements such as these appear professionally sympathetic demonstrating just enough corporate concern to create less focus on the fatality itself while tossing out the subtlest of hints that employee error had a role in the incident. But for those directly affected statements like these are a brutal and unnecessary infliction of additional grief at their most vulnerable point.

Just imagine for a moment John doe is your family friend or coworker and read the company statement again.

It's a slap in the face designed to take the emotional to irrational.

To ensure that if anyone should want to come forward with conflicting yet accurate information the chances of anyone listening is very unlikely. I've seen it so many times more than I can count. In-fact this technique is used so often that in the 7 years I have been involved with Health & Safety/Workplace Fatalities I have only come across two out of over 42,000 instances where this technique wasn't used.

Over the years I've repeatedly questioned how and why corporations are able to get away with this behavior. And finally I was given the answer. The medias main source of information following a workplace tragedy MUST begin with the most direct source AKA the Company.
Okay that part I knew. But what I did not know is that the media source can be held liable in a court of law for withholding and/or not including any & all company statements verbatim from its report.

Which is why any dispute of company statements must include some form of legal documentation proving that they are not based on hearsay. Regardless of whether the the first source of information was legitimate or not. Without which the source can also be sued. Rarely will you find anyone who is willing to risk taking that chance.
So the next time you run across a story like the one that prompted me to write this

Remember that the closest source to the story is not what one should consider the most accurate and learning how to read between the lines is often our best resource for seeking the truth.

So the next time a corporation releases a statement downplaying it's role in the death of three workers in under a year

Such as CES Environmental Services Inc did today claiming the $1,477,500 in penalties issued by OSHA in connection with 17 allegedly willful violations and 54 allegedly serious violations are NOT justified intending to contest them vigorously.

The statement given to the media claiming that

"CES works diligently to ensure the safety of its many employees in Houston and Port Arthur. It is a shame that overzealous regulators are continuing to harass a business that has done its best to provide an essential industrial service here in Houston."

Is nothing more than corporate trickery designed to detour the public from reading between the lines...

Translation Waaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh Stop harassing us by doing your job OSHA! Or we'll tell everyone how dedicated you are in your attempts to seek some kind of justice for the 3 life's needlessly lost in in 2009 due to our blatant and negligent disregard for workplace safety

Here's a thought... Perhaps CES Environmental Services Inc should just stop endangering/killing workers if they don't like the attention! I'm just sayin'


SAFE-T said...

WOW, the author of this article must have some kind of bone to pick with the world. With the claimed 7 years of Safety Experience, and more than 40 thousand incidents, this person must have done one terrible job.
OSHA is not the answer to worker safety. Employees have an obligation for safety related to their own actions and conduct. Employers have an obligation to provide its employees with a safe place of employment.
Such ramblings on this WeeklyToll is not productive to employment safety

Mary said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me as even though I disagree with much of what you said, However that doesn't mean your thoughts aren't important to me. My name is Mary Vivenzi I am the author of this article of which I take full responsibility for. Standing behind everything I said.
As well as what I'm about to say. If after reading the article all you walked away with was that I have little more than a bone to pick with the world. Then you've left me with only two conclusions to draw.
The first of which is that perhaps you read the article to fast to comprehend it. And the second one prompts me to consider asking you how long you've been working for CES Environmental Services Inc.? I do agree with you that Employers have an obligation to provide its employees with a safe place of employment. And I hope you'll consider passing that theory on to your employer.

Once again thanks for sharing your thoughts & twisting my words. Have a wonderful day.

Jonathan said...

SAFE-T, do you work for CES or perhaps the Chamber of Commerce? Because if your are claiming to be a safety professional i.e. safe-t you must be one that represents Employers and not necessarily employees.

Me? I happen to have 29 years experience in health and safety from both the private industry side and the regulatory side. So I feel I have a unique perspective into worker health and safety.

Mary can be a little passionate about her cause, but her heart is in the right place and quite frankly at least she is trying to make a difference. Which is a lot more I can say about others.

As you your comments I THINK some of your statements are correct, but lack additional information i.e. "Employers have an obligation to provide its employees with a safe place of employment." You are correct in that Employers are required to have written health and safety procedures for work conducted in their employment. They are required to provide CONTINUOUS training to thier employees. They are required to provide the tools (safety equipment) to do their job safely. The employer is required to conduct audits and inspections of job tasks to ensure they are being performed in a safe manner. They are required to conduct health monitoring. The list goes on and on.

Employees are required to follow the companys' health and safety program. Employees are required to NOT perform job tasks they are not trained in or have the proper PPE (and not be retaliated by their Employer.)

"OSHA is not the answer to worker safety." No, they are not. They are the enforcer of health and safety regulations that employers like CES ignore. You should be thankful OSHA is around. 3 deaths in one year and only a 1.2 million dollar fine? Quite frankly, OSHA does not go far enough, CES managers should be looking at jail time. That is how you encourage health and safety in the workplace by in stilling consequences for in action resulting in fatalities.

Lastly, I don't know you Mary, but keep doing what your doing. Great article.

Mary said...

Thanks for commenting. May your passion spread through H&S like a brush-fire!
In Solidarity,

SAFE-T said...

Mary and Jonathan:

Both of you are so very wrong. I not only do not work for CSE or the Chamber, but I have an extensive 34 year career in construction OS&H. I am a member of a union.
I am not an advocate of covering for employers or employees. I am a non-biased independent examiner of facts.

1. CES had fatalities in 12/08 and 04/09 and were cited by OSHA for those two deaths - they have contested and have a perfect right within the law to do so. I do not have any information and therefore I cannot comment on what CES did or did not do.

2. OSHA issues citations based on the ALLEGATION that violations existed and the penalties are PROPOSED. The OSHRC will rule on this or a court of law will rule on this.

3. According to the USA laws, there is the principle of "Innocent until proven guilty".

4. I do not nor will ever condone any violation or violations of safety rules, regulations, means, methods or best safety practices by anyone.....not an employer and not an employee.

Mary, you disagree with me for what reason or reasons? You failed to state any reason why you disagree. You stand behind what you wrote for some reason. Why?

Explain if you can what you mean by over 42,000 instances where some technique was not used. What technique?

I have independently investigated way over 150 worker deaths and hundreds of injuries in my career. Many times the employee fails to follow safety rules. Many times employers fail to provide worksites that are free of hazards.

Do you agree that employees have a duty to comply with safety and health regulations related to their own actions and conduct?

I comprehended your article just fine. I read it over and over again because I just could not imagine you jumping to conclusions with few facts to support your views. Now we are all entitled to free speech and free press, but you state very few facts and assume that CES, for instance is "downplaying its role in the death of three workers" just because they issued a press release?

Jonathan, you claim to have 29 years of H&S experience - in private industry and in regulations. Explain

Your assertion that "I must be (an H&S professional) that represents employers not necessarily employees" lacks factual foundation. I know of no separation of representation in the S&H profession as you suggest.

The duties of employers are well established in Public Law 91-596 Section 5(a). All the things you list are entirely true and as you said, there are more.

You FAILED to cite the rest of Section 5 - namely section 5(b) of the Law. "Each employee shall comply with occupational safety and health standards and all rules, regulations and orders issued pursuant to the OSHA ACT which are applicable to his own actions and conduct."

OSHA is not the answer to construction worker death prevention. They have not been since they were created in 1970. OSHA is a reactionary agency.

I think the facts should come out first don't you? You believe OSHA is always right?

OSHA cited and penalized a Georgia electrical contractor for a fatality which occurred on a construction project. After meeting with the contractor, OSHA dropped the citations and the penalty - because the contractor showed that the employee was trained.

I believe my passion for worker safety runs much deeper than either of you because I want facts; evidence and information as to the root cause of ALL fatalities and then recommend actions to prevent fatalities from occurring in the future.

Your article Mary was not GREAT; it was lousy, fact less and merit less at this early stage of the matter. If you would like to have the passion of H&S spread like a brush-fire, try education and fact based issues.

In Solidarity? The only issue is that workers cannot continue to die at a rate of more than 5,000 per year in the USA. Think about how to STOP THE DYING with positive results

Mary said...

If you want to be taken seriously perhaps you should Identify yourself just for starters.
And then I'll take the time to post a response to all your questions. However I'll understand completely if standing your ground and identifying yourself at the same time is too much for you. Lot's of people have that problem. Multitasking is not for everyone hell I cant tap my head and rub my tummy at the same time if that makes you feel any better.

Your move

And oh BTW the yearly number of workplace fatalities in the US is closer to 6000 unless of course you include the fatalities which result from occupational illness which brings the yearly total of work related death to approximately 60,000 per year FACT

Jonathan said...

Safe-t, well you've conducted probably only half the accident investigations that I've done in my 29 years. What surprises me is that you claim to be a union member and safety professional in construction? Well, I say to you, stop reaching for low hanging fruit. Any true safety professional will tell you that 95% of the time there is at fault an employer who failed to follow a safety rule/regulation when an accident has occurred. I grant you that sometimes an employee is also at fault in an accident, but that is the exception to the rule. If you were to ever learn how to conduct a root cause analysis of an accident you would know that 95% of the time employers are partly, if not entirely to blame.

The difference is, is that the good companies try to learn from their mistakes. If not, they get fined 1.5 millions dollars i.e. CES.

You are correct in that these are proposed penalties and until the citations are adjudicated, the employer is "innocent" until proven guilty.

Bottom line though actions speak louder than words. Three fatalities in two years? I don't know about you but any amateur safety professional can tell you something smells at CES.

Mary bases her opinions on media information, discussions with people in the know, and here own experience. Is her article biased? Maybe, but I'd rather see her advocate for worker health and safety and hold employers accountable for their lack of action than be a safety professional/union member with 34 years wanting to wait for facts instead of advocating for his/her fellow union brother/sister.

As for me? I worked in a petrochemical refinery for 20 years as a Health & Safety Specialist in charge of industrial contractors during refinery turnarounds. Basically, I oversaw 800 to 1200 contractors during 6 to 8 week turnarounds. I hold a law degree and I am a CSP. I am a manager of an agency that enforces worker health and safety as well as proactively educating employers on health and safety regulations prior to inspections by enforcement. Facts? Don’t preach to me about facts. I deal with administrative law judges all the time concerning facts. Facts are like regulations, they are interpreted by the one viewing them, no two people agreeing on what is said or read.

I normally won't spend my time responding to posts like yours, but Mary intrigues me. Here is an independent lay person advocating for worker health and safety. Here is you a quote "union member" wanting the facts before advocating for a workers right. Quite frankly, I’d rather have Mary watch my back any day compared to the likes of yours.

This is my last post, so respond as you will. Unfortunately I’ve seen to many like to you to know your mind is closed and made up and its just useless continuing any dialogue.

Oh, and Mary, I'm not John N:)

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