Donald Blankenship, the former CEO of Massey Energy, knew everything there was to know about the company’s West Virginia mines. He even received production updates every 30 minutes, according to reports. So when a blast at Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine in 2010 killed 29 miners, a federal court decided he should have been aware of the conditions that led to the incident.
Yesterday, Blankenship was sentenced to a year in prison and fined $250,000 for conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards. While he was not found to be directly responsible for the blast – the deadliest in four decades – he is the highest-ranking corporate official to ever be convicted of a workplace safety violation.
That’s an important step. Because at a time when big business seems to hold more sway with elected officials than everyday Americans, there needs to be more employer accountability. Contrary to popular belief, the workplace in many cases is not safe.
As noted last month in this blog, the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) revealed that in the first year of a new reporting requirement, employers reported more than 10,000 severe work-related injuries. These mishaps on the job resulted in 2,644 amputations and 7,636 hospitalizations. Among the top industries reporting severe injuries were in the food processing, warehousing and storage and general freight trucking sectors.
But that’s not all. A series of articles by online magazine Slate in July 2015 detailed both the past and present reality of workplace safety, and they didn't paint a pretty picture. Companies for years kept their mouths shut to workers about the toxic conditions they were toiling in, even to expecting mothers whose fetuses could be harmed. And despite the existence of OSHA, the power of the agency has largely been curbed by lawmakers.
Companies often talk about accountability on the job. But here are several examples where it was the employer not being accountable to their workers. That’s not acceptable, and is yet another reason why union membership is important for hard-working Americans.