Earlier this month, a skilled trades worker was killed in a fall at the General Motors (GM) Casting Operations facility in Defiance, Ohio. The plant was just inspected last June by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) and received two citations. It seems safety measures to correct these citations have not been taken.
The injured skilled trades worker was a 50-year-old electrician who was carrying out maintenance on an overhead crane when he fell roughly 30 feet into a pit. The worker suffered severe and ultimately fatal injuries.
Ohio Auto Industry Plants are Trying to Cut Corners on Safety and Wages
This most recent death marks the second Ohio auto factory fatality in as many months. In our blog last month, we wrote on how Honda’s effort to increase the company’s revenue by decreasing production and labor costs resulted in a high turnover and reduced compensation. This creates more contract workers without a pension who feel they need to push back their retirement and continue working, which results in more workplace injuries.
According to a skills trade worker at a GM Indiana plant, the company is following Honda’s lead by trying to decrease the amount of company employees they hire and replacing them with contract workers. Contract workers are inherently less of a liability to the company because when a contract worker gets injured, GM is not held responsible. Rather, the responsibility falls to the contractor. As long as GM shows these contract employees a few safety videos, the company escapes blame for any workplace fatality.
GM is also trying to eliminate skilled trades workers completely by attempting to “cross-train” skilled trades workers (which would decrease the number of jobs) and hire them as contract workers. However, the skilled trades worker from Indiana calls the program “a joke.” Skilled trades workers must apprentice for extended periods of time to help understand the job as they work. Throwing workers into classes on several trades that normally take years to master safely is unreasonable.
OSHA Needs to Hold the Auto Industry Responsible
Although both the Honda and GM accidents are still under investigation by OSHA, citations are just a slap on the wrists for these companies. OSHA and the Department of Labor need to be doing more to regulate how employees are classified in auto factories so that companies are held liable for workplace safety. Holding the auto industry liable with more severe consequences may encourage companies to develop better safety programs and better enforce current safety standards.
Larrimer and Larrimer, LLC is a personal injury law firm that helps victims of workplace accidents in Ohio.