Last night NPR ran a story about coal mine safety violations and the workers who are injured or killed because of safety violations. While we do not see any coal mine cases here in Buffalo, NY, as personal injury attorneys we all too often do see corporations taking short cuts which end up injuring people. We see this often in dangerous product cases, where a corporation puts a dangerous product on the shelf for sale and it ends up injuring or killing people. Safety regulations are overlooked, data is manipulated, and consumers are lied to.
The miner interviewed last night was working in a West Virginia coal mine when a 300 pound slab of rock fell from the roof and pinned him to the ground. He now has life long injuries as a result.
It turns out, the mine owner, Aracama Alma (then Massey Energy) had a long history of safety problems, yet they continued production and continued to send workers underground.
Two years before this particular miner was injured the mine had been cited more than 120 times for rock fall violations. Yet it appears they did nothing to correct this (indicated by the miner getting injured due to rock fall.) These rock falls can be prevented with roof support and safety checks.
Mines are fined for violations, the idea being that fines serve as incentives to keep the mines and workers safe. But the fines go unpaid and the mines continue to operate, profit and put their employees in danger.
At the time of this particular miners injury, Aracama Alma owed $200,000.00 in overdue fines. Yet they, and many other mines, continued to operate.
It is this writers opinion that fines are a good start. Workers must be kept safe and fining corporations for violations does seem to be a good incentive. However, it is apparent that this is simply not working. When we, the public, get fined in the form of parking tickets for example, we can only accrue so many before the city comes and puts a boot on our vehicle. This forces us to quit avoiding the overdue fines and make the payments we owe before being allowed to drive again. Why is this not the system used on corporations? An unpaid fine should force a shut down. I realize that this is a delectate argument. I understand people need their jobs and can’t afford to miss days from work. But what right does a corporation have to force its workers into dangerous environments? Mines will never be a completely safe environments to work in, but safety measures can and must be taken.
It does seem that in the eyes of the corporations, workers are disposable and their safety is not a concern while they continue to operate and profit. This is not acceptable. Profit can be made without compromising worker safety.