On OSHA fines, workplace fatalities, and the shortage of good excuses for dangerous environments in a rich country
The story of a Caterpillar employee who died in a foundry accident is altogether too gruesome to contemplate. It was only his ninth day on the job, and he perished for lack of fall protection. Hundreds of Americans die from on-the-job falls, especially in construction, but not limited to it. The rate is more than three deaths a day every regular workday of the year.
■ All kinds of attention is being paid to the impact of tech-sector layoffs as an indicator of the health of the economy. But for most of the people in that sector, there is no meaningful existential risk involved with showing up on the job.
■ And yet, inside that very same economy, we still implicitly tolerate an unfathomable number of risky choices every day. Sure, there's OSHA and any number of state-level safety regulators. But there's a difference between what anyone can hope to regulate and the essence of a design culture that starts with safety at the center.
■ In any kind of sane world, a death from falling into a vat of molten iron would have been engineered right out of the realm of possibility. Safety must be designed into every workplace from the start.
■ If it were, we wouldn't record thousands of workplace fatalities -- even setting aside transportation-related deaths. We reduce them to mere statistics out of necessity, but every one of those lives belonged to a person just as unique and human as any of the rest of us.
■ We're rich enough, technologically advanced enough, and civilized enough that intrinsically, deliberately safe working environments shouldn't be a matter dependent upon regulatory oversight. That should just be another case of "just the way things are".