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The argument for stiffer OSHA penalties: Exxon fined $600,000 for killing birds; company fined $9,100 following "senseless and preventable" fatality (8/27)

August 27, 2009
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OSHA reform legislation currently eliciting zero interest in both the U.S. House and Senate, due in no small part to the all-consuming healthcare reform World War III, will at some point, probably in 2010 or 2011, get serious consideration.

Both House and Senate OSHA reform bills are similar in their objectives: raising seriously outdated and by EPA standards puny OSHA penalties, and making it easier to criminally prosecute company executives (and possibly safety and health professionals?) for negligence and/or reckless behavior following workplace fatalities or multiple injuries.

Some OSHA-watchers in DC believe some form of OSHA reform legislation will be enacted before the elections of 2012. An impetus could be to honor the memory of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, who championed several unsuccessful stabs at OSHA reform, and was one of a select few senators to actually take an interest in OSHA affairs.

Here’s another argument that could be used by proponents of stiffer OSHA penalties:

Exxon-Mobil Corporation, the world’s largest publicly traded oil and gas company, in August pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Denver to violating the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) in five states during the past five years. The company has agreed to pay fines and community service payments totaling $600,000 and will implement an environmental compliance plan over the next three years aimed at preventing bird deaths on the company’s facilities in the affected states. According to papers filed in court, the company has already spent over $2.5 million to begin implementation of the plan, according to a U.S. Department of Justice press release.

The charges stem from the deaths of approximately 85 protected birds, including waterfowl, hawks and owls, at Exxon-Mobil drilling and production facilities in Colorado, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas between 2004 and 2009. According to the charges and other information presented in court, most of the birds died after exposure to hydrocarbons in uncovered natural gas well reserve pits and waste water storage facilities at Exxon-Mobil sites in Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

Also in August, OSHA cited Wynne Transport Service Inc. of Omaha, Neb, following an investigation into a fatal accident June 12. An employee was preparing to pump a load of liquid asphalt for road construction from one parked truck to another, and was killed when one of the trucks unexpectedly rolled into the other, pinning the employee between the two trucks.

The penalty? A $9,100 fine.

"This workplace accident was senseless and completely preventable," said Charles Adkins, OSHA's regional administrator in Kansas City, Mo.

A senseless and completely preventable accident kills a man on the job. The company faces a fine approximately 70 times smaller than what Exxon paid for killing birds. The OSHA press release makes no mention of requiring the company to implement a compliance plan costing more than $2.5 million.

Of course not. Our laws are set up to value wildlife more than human life. Apparently birds have better lobbyists than humans.

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