Friday, August 14, 2009

Oregon's OSHA Has The Right Idea

Oregon's OSHA Looks at Bigger Fines

The article below from Daily Journal of Commerce by Justin Carinci, brings up two of my Pet Peeves regarding incentives toward constructions companies that are performing Unsafe Operations on their jobsites that cause fatalities and/or serious and willful safety violations.

These two items that I have touted are the ATTITUDE of, especially the larger, more affluent companies that they have so much money that they don't care to pay a "slap on the wrist" monetary fine to willful or fatal incidents on their jobsites. The other is the fact the these fines are not financially significient to "Get their Attention."

The company official in this article seems to have this "I'm a big boy and I have plenty of money to pay for incidents and continue to keep my bigger than thou and too rich for a little $65,000 fine to make me Safety Conscious on my jobsites." These are the ones that should have their willful and fatal fines multiplied by at least 10 times the $65,000. A few these should make significient Attitude Adjustments to these type companies.

I have corresponded with Mr. Wood of the Oregon OSHA in the past and am in full agreement with him that SOMETHING needs to be done about these type companies. I fully agree that the 2 or 3 small companies would be immediately put out of business for a fine of $65,000. However, does that tiny company get a free ride and stay in business if they have one fatal incident and kills 1/3 of their employees?

There are a large number of approaches to these delimas that a Oregon OSHA will have to delve into. I just want to encourage Mr. Wood and his group to continue to iron out some of these approaches and come up with solutions that can, not only make Oregon OSHA's jobsites a safer place to work.

OSHA eyes bigger fines for safety violations

POSTED: Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 04:06 PM CDT
BY: Justin Carinci
Tags: ,
Dan Carter/DJC

Dan Carter/DJC

Oregon OSHA officials are considering raising the fines for serious workplace safety violations and making bigger employers pay more. In the construction industry, however, the largest general contractors say bigger fines won’t make them any safer.

The commitment to safety should come from the companies themselves, said Dan Kavanaugh, vice president and general manager with Turner Construction Co.

“From our philosophy, money is not the motivator,” he said “A fine doesn’t mean anything to us.”

Right now, Oregon OSHA calculates fines based on two factors: the probability that an accident will occur and the severity of that accident. The most severe accident – one that causes a death – carries a maximum fine of $5,000.

That isn’t much of a financial hit for huge companies, said Michael Wood, Oregon OSHA administrator. Wood has the authority, at his discretion, to add up to $2,000 to each penalty in egregious cases.

Wood said he’s considering issuing fines on a sliding scale, based on the company’s size, and setting the new cap at $7,000, the highest Oregon OSHA can go under state law. “It’s certainly one of the things we’re looking at,” he said.

Smaller companies now can get a break of up to 30 percent on fines, Wood said. But that’s a smaller break than other states offer, and the issue probably will come up when Oregon OSHA starts talking, later this month, about updating its rules.

Safety violations made news last week, when Oregon OSHA announced penalties totaling $90,000 stemming from a February accident in which a welder was killed in a Boardman potato processing plant owned by ConAgra Foods. ConAgra received 13 fines totaling $65,000; NW Metal Fabricators, the company performing the repairs at the plant, received five fines totaling $25,000.

Wood acknowledged that a $65,000 fine wouldn’t have a great effect on a giant company such as ConAgra, which had $12.7 billion in sales for the fiscal year that ended in May. But he said Oregon OSHA’s main role is to push employers to keep workplaces safe, not to penalize them.

“It isn’t about an appropriate punishment,” Wood said. “This is about being a motivation to the employers.
“What motivates Fred’s Roofing, (which) has two employees, is going to be different than what motivates ConAgra.”

That’s especially true in construction, a field that has grown safer and more professional thanks in part to high-profile efforts by the largest companies. These companies generally don’t flout safety laws, Kavanaugh said.

An “absolutely, unequivocally fundamental commitment” to creating the safest environment on job sites is what drives Turner, he said. Raising fines wouldn’t change that.

Higher fines could be big hits for small and mid-sized construction companies, but they wouldn’t affect the biggest players, said Dan Johnson, vice president of operations for Skanska USA.

“If they raised fines, would that become a motivation?” Johnson said. “I’m thinking ‘no.’ ”

Johnson has called for the entire industry to take a zero-tolerance approach to job-site accidents. Oregon OSHA shouldn’t need to get involved at all, he said.

“Our mission is never to be fined by OSHA,” Johnson said. “To receive an OSHA citation, that is a strike against everything we stand for in safety.”

Johnson said he sees more problems at companies much smaller than Skanska. “It’s the house builders, the small contractors – you can see from the street the goofy things they’re doing.”

For those contractors, a bigger fine might make a difference.

“At the lower level of construction, they’ll get (the job) done and try to survive,” Johnson said. “If being fined is their only motivation (to be safer), maybe that’s enough.”

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