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Behind the Oil Spill Disaster April 29, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts.
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The British Petroleum oil rig that blew up last week, killing 11 workers, is now spreading oil over a massive area in the Gulf of Mexico… “Drill Baby Drill”,one of the campaign slogans from McCain’s presidential campaign, is not looking quite so catchy. It’s too bad Obama caved into oil interests recently and authorized more off shore drilling.

This comes on the heels of the Massey Coal Mine explosion that killed 29 miners a few weeks ago.

What do these two events have in common? Both British Petroleum and Massey Coal were nonunion work sites.

As economist Teresa Ghilarducci writes:

In 2009, four years after a BP explosion in a Texas refinery that killed 15 workers and injured 170, the Occupational Safety and Health administration imposed the largest fine in its history—$87-million on British Petroleum. BP also paid billions in criminal charges and civil claims for the accident: $50-million in criminal fines for violating the Clean Air Act and over 4,000 claims from a $2.1-billion claims fund.

Why does this company still operate in this country? How many more workers does it have to kill?

In my economics classes, I teach the economics of health and safety. The two-minute version has the same conclusion as the two lecture version: If it is cheaper for the company to kill workers than it is to safeguard the workplace so they are not killed, workers will be killed. Unions and hefty government fines would raise the price of killing workers. Both Massey and BP work sites were nonunion. And the rate of unionization in this nation is at a all time low: 7.2 percent.

No other developed nation has a weaker labor movement than the United States and this country kills more workers per year than most.

Even these numbers are suspect. And the United States, unlike other rich countries, does not count fatalities due to occupational disease as a fatality. Seven countries impose safety obligations upon either directors or senior managers of companies—Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, Japan, Canada, and Australia—while the United Sates imposes none.

The U.S. Department of Labor classifies on-the-job fatalities as misdemeanors, even if the employer was negligent by willfully failing to follow OSHA safety standards. The maximum civil penalty OSHA can levy for a safety violation is $70,000,  and the maximum prison sentence for a willful violation of a safety standard that leads to a worker’s death is six months. Six months.

Check out Fair Warning for direct commentary on corporate health and safety practices.

These workplace fatalities are not accidents of nature; they are caused by the Congress’s and the president’s failure to regulate and protect workers who attempt to unionize

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com



1. Asur - April 30, 2010

The only difference between a) specifically engineering someone’s death, and b) knowingly putting them into a situation where that outcome is only a matter of time, is how explicitly culpable the orchestrating agent is — but in either circumstance, culpable they clearly are.

Since I doubt anyone with influence over what a corporation can and cannot do (whether as a party internal or external to that corporation) could reasonably be ignorant of that, I must wonder at why it’s permitted to continue.

The only explanation I see places this, at every level, in terms of Cost and Benefit, much as the article pointed out relative the corporate fiscal level. Clearly, though, that is only one level of many; corporate entities do not exist in some sort of vacuum. So, what I am really interested in is what we are buying through enabling events like these to occur, and for whom are we buying it?

What reduces to ‘individual greed’ is certainly the conditioned response, but is it the most accurate?

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