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On Jan. 3, 2003, Richard Fairfax, director of OSHA's enforcement program, sent the following letter to McWane in response to McWane's proposal of a cooperative partnership with OSHA. OSHA defines a partnership as "an extended voluntary, cooperative relationship with groups of employers, employees, and employee representatives in order to encourage, assist, and recognize their efforts to eliminate serious hazards and achieve a high level of worker safety and health."

Fairfax writes, "Most employers OSHA partners with have demonstrated a strong prior commitment towards worker health and safety; your history with the Agency does not yet demonstrate this level of commitment. More specifically, given the relatively recent history at the Tyler Pipe facility, we cannot at [t]his time conclude that such is evident throughout McWane facilities." He also recommends that McWane implement seven specific safety and health efforts, including the development of "comprehensive environmental, health, and safety management systems at the corporate level and at each of your facilities." . FRONTLINE obtained this letter from the Department of Labor under the Freedom of Information Act.

U.S. Department of Labor
Jan 3., 2003

James M. Proctor, II
McWane, Inc.
2900 Highway 280, Suite 300
Birmingham, AL 35243

Dear Mr. Proctor:

Thank you for your November 6 letter that includes a draft Cooperative Agreement between OSHA, McWane, Inc., and Ransom Industries, LP. We have completed our review of the draft. While we are encouraged by your efforts and willingness to improve safety and health at your facilities as indicated by your thoughtful draft, we do not feel it is appropriate at this time to enter into a formal agreement.

Your draft Agreement is very similar to recent OSHA partnerships. Most employers OSHA partners with have demonstrated a strong prior commitment towards worker health and safety; your history with the Agency does not yet demonstrate this level of commitment. More specifically, given the relatively recent history at the Tyler Pipe facility, we cannot at [t]his time conclude that such is evident throughout McWane facilities. OSHA would like to see more in the way of individual facility efforts towards improving workplace health and safety before the Agency considers entering into a formal partnership. The five up-coming inspections of McWane facilities agreed upon will hopefully give OSHA the information it needs to help assess the possibility of a cooperative agreement.

However, as McWane, Inc. moves toward improved safety and health conditions, we are committed to providing your company support and assistance through our Dallas Regional and Area Offices, and from the Directorate of Enforcement Programs in Washington, D.C. We encourage your company to move forward by implementing or conducting the following safety and health efforts:

Click here to see a facsimile image of the report.

  • Begin developing comprehensive environmental, health, and safety management systems at the corporate level and at each of your facilities.

  • As we discussed at one of our earlier meetings, bring in an outside consultant that would work with your local managers on a workplace culture change where managers and workers would see workplace health and safety as a valued part of doing business.

  • Hire third party auditors to conduct safety and health audits at your facilities and establish an abatement timeline to correct the identified hazards.

  • Revise and update your safety and health programs.

  • Implement and/or improve upon your worker and frontline supervisor training in workplace health and safety.

  • At each of your facilities, track the lost workday injury and illness (LWDII) rates and set goals for reductions in injuries and illnesses and the LWDII rate.

  • Encourage and seek employee involvement in safety and health issues by including employees directly in the company's effort, as well as by maintaining formal systems to address safety and health related matters, including expeditious resolution of employee safety and health concerns.

To assist you in these efforts OSHA is prepared to work with your company by providing recommendations for third party auditors and consultants; reviewing your programs; making our safety and health personnel available to answer questions and provide guidance; and conducting some training. We anticipate that after a year of successful efforts towards improving workplace health and safety we could revisit your proposal.

While I realize that this letter does not respond in immediate accord with your proposal, I want to stress that we are encouraged by your stated efforts and willingness to commit to improved safety and health. We encourage you to continue in your improvements and then revisit this type of relationship with OSHA when more has been accomplished. If you have any questions or wish to discuss this or any related matter, please contact me directly at [phone number deleted].

Sincerely,

[signed]

Richard E. Fairfax, Director
Directorate of Enforcement Programs

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