Social maker

OSHA fines auto parts maker $25,000 for two COVID deaths, while leaving the big fish off the hook

A major COVID outbreak at Ohio-based Sanoh America has killed at least two workers and infected a third of the workforce at one of its plants, prompting the Federal Health Administration Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) to wrist fine the company for failing to protect its employees.

During an inspection last August at the start of Delta’s surge, OSHA found that the company had abandoned all of its mitigation measures such as social distancing and mask-wearing. Sixty-five employees had tested positive for the virus and by the end of the month, about a third of Sanoh America’s 270 employees in Findlay, Ohio had contracted COVID. Five workers were hospitalized and two died tragically.

For this criminal policy, OSHA slapped the company with a paltry $26,527 fine and a future safety enforcement order. But there is no mechanism within this process to ensure that mitigation measures will be put in place or monitored.

Plant manager James Kammer immediately controlled the damage, blaming the individual workers who brought COVID into the workplace. He even falsely claimed that OSHA protocols had been followed: “The facility’s COVID-19 prevention plan has been implemented and is working. After the outbreak in this community, employee COVID-19 infections declined rapidly. We meet with OSHA, understand their enforcement stance, and evaluate our attractive options. »

A Sanoh America warehouse (Credit: sanoh-america.com)

While the company is willing to spend money on corporate attorneys to mitigate the fallout, rather than update the facility’s safety measures, the fine imposed by OSHA n won’t affect profit margins at Sanoh America, which has 10 manufacturing plants. across North America and brings in $280 million in annual sales.

For the company, it’s just a small price to pay for doing business. Since 2007, OSHA has had to investigate the company at least six times for health and safety violations, mostly at facilities in Ohio.

Citing the company, OSHA effectively put a price on human life priceless at $13,263 and some changes. If OSHA were to fine every company that violated safety measures at this current rate for the preventable deaths of approximately 870,000 people, a fine of approximately $11.5 billion would be imposed, compared to the record $3 trillion in profits made by American companies last year.

Imposing a small fine on a single small parts manufacturer is an exception that upholds OSHA’s rule allowing catastrophic outbreaks in auto plants and other workplaces without any consequences. There is no doubt that part of the decision to fine Sanoh was to divert public attention from this case. For example, Larry Johnson, OSHA Regional Director in Columbus, Ohio, said in a press release, “Sanoh America’s failure to adhere to health and safety guidelines and its own company policies has resulted in illnesses and deaths of workers. Then he said, “OSHA continues to enforce all applicable coronavirus standards and holds employers accountable for failing to meet their obligations to minimize worker exposure to the coronavirus.”

Scores of autoworkers have died of COVID before the eyes of US automakers and the pro-corporate United Auto Workers (UAW), including following massive outbreaks at factories several times the size of the factory. Findlay from Sanoh America.

A full tally of the number of infections and deaths is impossible because the companies and union have not released national figures. But at one plant, Stellantis’ Sterling Stamping Plant near Detroit, where more than 2,000 workers are employed, at least five workers died last after contracting COVID: Xavier Anderson, Kevin Railey, Omie Smith, Blair Alexander Braden and Mark Bruce. Another worker, Terry Garr, died in an accident at the plant.

At Mack Trucks in Macungie, Pennsylvania, 829 workers have tested positive for COVID out of a workforce of about 2,000. According to the company and the UAW, every worker has recovered, but Mack workers say at least three are dead. One death confirmed by a worker at Mack was William Dimitrovitsch.

A Mack Trucks worker wrote in the World Socialist Website describing the situation at the Macungie plant, which OSHA has never investigated: “We don’t have social distancing in the plant, the majority of workers don’t wear masks. … We were told in 2020 that protocols had been put in place for COVID. …2 years later, I have yet to see a COVID cleaning crew disinfect an area after reporting someone infected with the virus. When a person is sent home, there is no notification to other employees working in the immediate area of ​​contamination. … Since December 2021, we have lost 3 employees due to COVID.

According to a 2021 U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General (OIG) report, OSHA conducted 50% fewer on-site inspections and issued fewer than 300 COVID violations in 2020 , even though complaints increased 15% and state workplace safety agencies issued five times more citations and fines than OSHA.

OSHA’s turning a blind eye to the overwhelming majority of workplaces and schools where COVID is spreading unchecked is consistent with the “herd immunity” policy of first the Trump administration and then the the Biden administration, from which OSHA took his orders.

Once in office, Biden issued an executive order calling on OSHA to produce new mitigation guidelines for businesses to follow in an attempt to cover up Trump’s disastrous handling of the pandemic. But the order was only a set of half-measures without relying on the force of law. In fact, companies have no legal obligation to follow these new OSHA guidelines while they still routinely flout all health and safety measures with impunity. Today, there is no system in place to accurately track the number of infections in workplaces and schools, and management never informs workers of infections in their area.

President Biden also upheld Trump’s executive order keeping meatpacking plants open by declaring them “critical infrastructure” under the Defense Production Act. Nearly 300 meatpacking workers have died during the pandemic, according to figures compiled by the Food and Environment Reporting Network. The Biden administration is also reopening schools despite massive infections during the ongoing Omicron push, even as schools struggle to function due to the scale of infections among teachers and staff.

OSHA has never investigated poorly ventilated schools, which have been the main vectors of the disease, where dozens of children tragically contracted the disease and died, as well as the deaths of hundreds of educators and school workers.

However, even with the strictest safety measures in place, workplaces and schools remain huge reservoirs for the spread of COVID. Complete closure of non-essential businesses with full pay for those affected, along with scientifically-guided mitigation efforts such as contract tracing, quarantine, testing, and N95 masks available for free globally , are necessary to save lives.