Saturday, July 26, 2008

let the market punish failure?

So many laissez-faire, free market, anti-regulation types insist that the market will punish companies that make poor quality goods and are otherwise in some way inadequate. They like to criticize the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for being anti-business and un-American. Some of the more extreme types call OSHA a "fascist" organization made up of "safety nazis" that force unreasonable edicts upon our saintly private sector. Just for fun, you know.

So they probably don't like the recent announcement by OSHA to recommend fining Imperial Sugar $8.7 million for its unfair safety practices that led to the explosion in February that killed 13 people. OSHA says Imperial knew about the dangers at that plant since 2002 and did nothing to fix them. And on top of that, even after the explosion in Savannah, Imperial let its sugar refinery in Louisiana operate with the same hazardous conditions - sugar dust 4 to 5 FEET thick! - until OSHA force them to close IT down before it blew a bunch of workers to kingdom come.

Personally, it would seem unwise to me to disregard safety to such an extent that your sugar refineries are blowing up. I mean, that destroys productive capacity, right? Oh, and it kills people, too.

Maybe Imperial thought it would never happen to them - an explosion, I mean. That would just make them stupid. Or they figured hey, the cost isn't worth it so we'll go along with the risk. After all, Imperial executives and lawyers don't have to work in those plants...

This isn't the sort of behavior that the market will correct. Sure, in the long run if enough sugar plants blow up, people might become reluctant to work there. For a while, at least. Fact is of course, all sorts of dangerous jobs are still out there and still getting applicants because of the economic realities many people face - that might be the only job in the area they can get.

I hope OSHA's decision sticks, although $8.7 seems too a small fine to me. But Imperial will appeal of course.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home