After investigating the death of Tina Hall, who died in the mixing room at Toyo Automotive parts in 2007 from burns covering 90 percent of her body, the Kentucky Labor Cabinet’s Department of Workplace Standards cited the company for 16 “serious” violations and fined them $105,000.
While the punishment couldn’t bring back the life of a loved member of the community, it would have brought a small amount of justice considering how many violators go unpunished.
That is, if the company had paid the fine.
Instead, Toyo got their lawyers involved and threatened to go to court, and the case was promptly dropped.
What’s worse is that Hall’s family was never notified about the de-punishing, according to a Mother Jones article chronicling the events. The bad news came via Ron Hayes, the leader of an advocacy group for the families of fallen workers. Hayes’ son died in a Florida grain elevator accident in 1993. He lodged a formal complaint with OSHA on behalf of the Hall family, which concluded in June 2011 that the state had erred:
Responding to the formal complaint OSHA’s regional administrator in Atlanta, Cindy Coe, wrote to Hayes.
“Deleting citations in their entirety sends a signal to employers that they need only contest to alleviate the burden of history.”
In an unprecedented move for Kentucky, the state’s Department of Workplace Standards recently reinstated the punishments, claiming the company never followed through on the promised safety improvements.
Kentucky is one of 26 states that runs their own worker safety program. Although under federal supervision, many state programs are prone to buckling under legal pressure. There are organizational flaws in these programs that limit their ability to effectively deal with such incidents.
Documents indicate that Toyo was offered concessions but decided to play hardball:
Documents obtained by the Center for Public Integrity under the Freedom of Information Act show how Toyo’s lawyer, Mark Dreux of Arent Fox in Washington, D.C., fought the state of Kentucky from the beginning. Dreux declined to comment on the case.
In March 2008, the state offered to reduce the penalty from $105,500 to $74,000. Dreux refused. In June 2008, the state proposed a further reduction, to $15,000, for three violations. Dreux said no. In November 2008, Dreux got what he wanted: No violations and no fine.
Read this entire, unnerving story here.