OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH INDEPENDENT REVIEW OF OSHA CITATIONS ACT OF 2005 -- (House of Representatives - July 12, 2005)
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Ms. KAPTUR. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman for yielding me this opportunity and take great privilege in coming to the floor today to place into the public realm a concern that is deep-seated in the city of Toledo and the State of Ohio which I am so honored to represent.
It in fact deals with corporate manslaughter. I stand today to oppose any weakening of OSHA statutes, and support the Owens bill to strengthen worker safety and protection. For, in fact, if those protections had been in place, the men I am going to tell Members about today would not be dead. Our community would not be in mourning. Their families would not be in mourning.
We have all observed with awe the marvelous photos of construction workers sitting on I-beams swinging above some of our Nation's major cities. High above New York City is one photo that comes to mind, as we admire the skill and the daring of these Americans who put their lives on the line every single day. These tradespeople indeed build America. I cannot think of a citizen in our country that does not respect their prowess and their skill.
Well, the worst construction accident in the history of the State of Ohio occurred in our city on February 16 of last year. It occurred on a Federal project, a Federal project that I had authorized and that has been being built now for several years. I was so proud when we passed that legislation. I said this is going to be a Federal project which is going to be built without one death, and we worked for almost 2 ½ years to sign a safety agreement with each of the trades involved in this project and with the major company and the State of Ohio. It was difficult to bring them all to the table. I said I did not want this to be another Mackinaw. I did not want dead men at the base of another river. Instead, I hoped we would build this project and demonstrate respect for those doing the work.
Well, on February 16, 2004, these four men lost their lives. Several others were seriously injured on this job. Crushed to death on this job were ironworkers Mike Phillips, age 42; Arden Clark, age 47; Mike Moreau, age 30; and Robert Lipinski, Jr., age 44.
I cannot tell Members what it was like to go to the funeral of each of these men. How poignant, how unforgettable to be with those families following an accident I know could have been prevented. But, yes, there were people in this city, people in our capital of Columbus, people in that company who did not care, who simply did not care.
One of the men who lost his life, his nickname was Bubba, Bubba Lipinski, he was such a magnificent man. He weighed about 320 pounds. He was not heavy-set; he was just strong. He was about 6 feet 6. When I walked into the funeral home, his casket was the size of a child's casket, a mountain of a man, crushed to death.
Joe Blaze, the President of the Local Ironworkers observed, "What happened will affect our community for generations." The local paper, The Toledo Blade, reported, "Workers told investigators the crane's rear legs," this is, the crane that fell, "were held up with 14 inches of shims and no anchors in the footers while each front leg had shims in only one of only two anchors." The workers were literally crushed when this million-ton crane moved, and it just could not hold itself. And it fell, crushing them to death in the process.
The question really is, why did it fall? Incredibly, its feet were not tied down. And people knew that. People in the company knew that. There are internal memos that show that they knew that.
But though the accident occurred over a year ago, the State of Ohio, that I view as an accomplice in this willful manslaughter, will not release inspection records. OSHA will not permit its inspector general at the Department of Labor to give us the pre-accident inspection reports. So, who was on site? Who was not on site? Who should have inspected? Who did not?
Moreover, there seems to be an issue of whether the Federal Government had responsibility to inspect a "launching Gantry crane", which is a specialized type of crane, that is, whether OSHA really had responsibility for inspecting launching Gantry cranes as opposed to other types of cranes.
Another major wrinkle, is that this particular crane, and there were two of them, was made in Italy, not the United States. The crane was imported. The men were a little uncomfortable with that. They generally build their own cranes and then build bridges using those cranes. Yet the State of Ohio assured the workers that it was of equal measure to any crane built in the United States. But there seems to be a little stickler in the OSHA regulations that OSHA may not equally regulate foreign imported cranes to the same standards expected of U.S. made cranes. They are not held to the same standard. Hmmm, why would that be?
I tried last month during the markup of the Labor, Health and Human Services appropriations bill to include simple report language in that bill, which is never denied to a member of this House, merely asking the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration to gather all records relating to the inspections that should have been done on the job, or lack thereof, prior to the accident and to provide them to the public record as well as to provide any communications that have occurred with the U.S. Department of Justice related to this accident. This was denied to me as an elected representative of the people of my district. It was denied to me by the Republican majority of this House, by the Republican majority of my committee, and by the Republican leader of the committee that is on the floor today.
I am angry. I am very angry. They do not want any oversight. They want the weaker OSHA regulations. They do not care about these men. They do not care about their families.
I have asked the majority to hold oversight hearings regarding OSHA's action or inaction in this I-280 Federal interstate highway accident. No word yet. No word yet on their willingness to agree for a request for a hearing. Surely the Congress has an oversight responsibility in a matter as serious as this one.
OSHA's Midwest office has ruled there was willful negligence on the job. And for reasons not completely understood, although they ruled willful negligence, they had to change the ruling. The ruling has now been changed. We do not know who changed the ruling. We want to know that. Now it has been termed "unclassified". It has gone from willful negligence, or corporate manslaughter, to unclassified. What does that mean?
It probably means that as the individual court cases move forth locally, somehow civil litigation is going to be affected by a careful dance of words. How absolutely cruel. Cruel. We talk about being pro-life. You are looking at a pro-life Member, and every one of those lives means everything to us. They went to work faithfully. They worked hard. They did magnificent work. I was up on that bridge last winter. It was blasted cold up there and windy. I represent the Saudi Arabia of wind up there on Lake Erie. They went to work in 32 degrees below zero. It was so cold with that wind factor.
Now guess how much OSHA is able to fine the company, and this is a $300 million to $400 million project, how much is OSHA able to fine the company and others responsible for this serious loss, a total of $70,000 for each lost life. $70,000 for each lost life? That is travesty. For 4 lost lives, OHSHA will impose a fine totalling $280,000 on a $300 million-plus project. That equals a fine of .0009% . . . almost embarrassing were it not so wrong. And, the money goes to the U.S. Treasury; it does not even go to the victims' families. What kind of country is this? What kind of shop are we running here?
Well, in my opinion, in cases of such gross negligence and criminal manslaughter, there should be more than civil damages and OSHA fines.
Our chief of police who is a very measured man said these men were murdered. There is criminal wrongdoing here. You know the amazing thing about our law, though this is a $300-plus million transportation project, I cannot even dedicate a few percentage points to give money to our local county prosecutor to investigate the nature of the negligence get to the bottom of this. The Department of Labor does not allow it. The Department of Transportation does not allow it. How do we find out what happened?
My questions are, where was OSHA? Who was investigating and who was inspecting on site? Where was the State of Ohio Department of Transportation? Where was their inspection? Why did they sign an acceleration agreement with the company-to make work on the project move even faster when the workers were a year and a half ahead of schedule? Who knew those footers were not tied down, both at the front and back ends of the launching Gantry crane? Did OSHA purposely not inspect what is termed a launching Gantry crane? Did OSHA not inspect nor require equal standards on a foreign made crane similar to one that is made in the United States of America?
Why did I have to jump start the negotiation of a safety agreement before construction started? Why did OSHA not do that? Why did the U.S. Department of Transportation not do that? Why did the State of Ohio not do that? The State of Ohio has got their head in the sand. Those in charge are hiding in Columbus somewhere under the sidewalk. You cannot even find them. Here we have the largest transportation project in Ohio history with criminal manslaughter, and they are all taking the duck.
Why is this Congress undermining what little authority OSHA ever had? What are we doing here? And who are we doing it for? Fru-Con, the major contractor? They have been responsible for five deaths in the last year at two different project sites. That is quite a record.
We have now been told OSHA has not developed a standard or promulgated a rule stating that foreign-manufactured cranes, like this one, must equal or exceed U.S. safety standards. Who is responsible? On whose hands does the blood of these men lie in this House? On whose hands does it lie? I have a pretty good idea. Recommendations for such a standard were made nearly a year ago but not acted upon. Why not? Why not? Why has this Congress not demanded and implemented as soon as possible these regulations? Or made meeting U.S. standards a condition of eligibility for Federal funding? There is a serious abdication of responsibility here. We were always taught in school, there are sins of commission and there are sins of omission. Both sides of the ledger you are accountable for. Here there is a serious abdication of responsibility by the U.S.-an ommission, a purposeful omission. The inept Department of Labor caused the deaths of these men, as well as those in this Congress that would seek to weaken OSHA and gave no value to their lives.
These men died, in my view, because of the apparent willful negligence of our U.S. Department of Labor and the office of safety and health within it that was supposed to be set up to protect their lives as well as their allies here in the Congress who are completely undermining worker safety laws, They have abdicated their responsibility not just as lawmakers but as human beings to their fellow men and women to conduct aggressive oversight. The State of Ohio, as the contractural agent for the federal government, fell asleep on its oversight. The fact there are 4 dead men, and a half dozen injured is grim testament to that.
I have appealed already to our Committee on Education and the Workforce to hold hearings into this tragedy in Ohio. The hearings ought to be held in Ohio. It is my hope that, in spite of the actions being taken today, there might be some accountability, some conscience out there that asks-no, that demands-that this Congress act on behalf of the mothers and the fathers and the wives and the children and every single person in our community that goes under that bridge every day or looks at that construction project, all the people that still lay wreaths at the site, they are numerous, all the prayers, all the offerings, all the memories that are there forever.
I want to say to my colleague from New York, Mr. OWENS you have my strongest support on your bill. I am so sorry that I have to come here to the floor today and speak these words that I know, for the families back home, is so very hard to listen to. But I feel it is my responsibility as the only voice they have got here. I want to say to the ironworkers union, if I can hold my composure, you deserve a lot better than this. You serve us with great distinction. We value the lives of your members and the faith that they put in us to protect them. Some of us take this obligation as a sacred obligation. We salute them.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT