Another black eye for state’s managing OSHA’s workplace safety

L.V. and Tina Hall – 2 years before she died

Around midnight on June 1, 2007, Tina Hall was finishing her shift in a place she loathed: the mixing room at the Toyo Automotive Parts factory in Franklin, Ky., where flammable chemicals were kept in open containers.

A spark ignited vapors given off by toluene, a solvent Hall was transferring from a 55-gallon drum to a hard plastic bin. A flash fire engulfed the 39-year-old team leader, causing third-degree burns over 90 percent of her body. She died 11 days later.

After investigating the accident, the Kentucky Labor Cabinet’s Department of Workplace Standards cited Toyo for 16 “serious” violations and proposed a $105,500 fine in November 2007…

The violations didn’t stick. Every one of them went away in 2008, as did the fine, after Toyo’s lawyer vowed to contest the enforcement action in court. Last month, in a move believed to be unprecedented in Kentucky, the Department of Workplace Standards reinstated all the violations because, it said, the company hadn’t made promised safety improvements.

The case was another black eye for state-run workplace health and safety programs nationwide. In all, 26 states administer their own programs under federal supervision. Several have been criticized in recent years for capitulating to lawyered-up employers, performing subpar inspections and shutting out accident victims’ families.

RTFA for lots of details, examples of states rights and local bureaucracy used as you would expect – to walk away from responsibility to provide safe conditions for working people. Like many smoke-and-mirrors state programs, these exist because of lax administration by a federal bureaucracy equally unconcerned about those they are chartered to protect.

Kentucky is just one example of a state with employers let off the hook by states rights and state responsibilities. But, the case of Tina Hall, burned to death from a terrible fire stinks even more because a department run by cowards and cowed civil servants backed away from prosecution and penalties simply because the company responsible threatened to contest the case.

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