A Dangerous Business Revisited
  • Home
  • Watch Online
  • “The McWane Way”
  • Updates
  • Site Map
  • Discussion

Join the Discussion

steel millsteel millsteel mill


I am not one to comment on articles in the news, however after reading Ms. [K's] response I must set the story straight. I worked for the Tyler Pipe Company in Macungie, PA. for 20 years (15 yrs. as hourly and 5yrs. management). On the night of the fire that she refers to, I was the supervisor in charge of the plant and there was no explosion. I also can not recall any co2 problems. The commitment to safety by our plant manager and the rest of the managment team resulted in that every employee was safely evacuated from the plant without as much as a scratch.In my twenty years of employment at the Macungie plant we never had the troubles that the other Mcwane plants had.When McWane bought our plant we thought they were going to close the plant down. Instead of closing the plant down they started to invest in the plant. This was long before the Frontline investigation.To us in the management team safety was number one. One thing you must keep in mind, a foundry is a dangerous enviroment even with the best safety programs in place. Mcwane might have been irresponsible in other plants that they owned and they should pay for thier bad managment practices, however I do not feel the Macungie plant should be lumped into this catagory. I am proud to say I worked for Tyler Pipe (Penn Division)and feel we had some of the best employee's (hourly and management)that any company could ask for.

william Pearsall
Emmaus, PA


It is nothing short of incredulous that FRONTLINE is standing on the threshold of another Pulitzer Prize winning story - the complete rebirth of an American pipe company committed to its employees, their education, health and safety, a clean environment, as well as keeping jobs in the United States - and FRONTLINE left the story dead on its desk (or, more accurately put, in a thousand pieces on its website for the viewers who troubled themselves to locate such pieces and read them).

Five years ago FRONTLINE called for change at McWane. Had McWane adopted what has disappointingly become "the American way" and simply pointed its finger at the guy on the left, refused to take responsibility, thrown in the towel and closed up shop, "revisiting" McWane today likely would include (1) devastating footage from more than 7,000 employees out of work or forced to find other jobs, (2) interviews with spouses, children and families who depended on the income of those McWane employees and were forced into hardships with the loss (temporary or otherwise) of income and (3) black and white photographs of empty plants in towns with sharply reduced, if not destroyed, economies.

Instead, McWane employees today, like the one featured on FRONTLINE, appear proud to work for a company that is night and day different from the old McWane. Based on information from FRONTLINE's website, the new McWane is committed to becoming the industry leader and setting standards above and beyond government thresholds for workplace safety and environmental preservation. McWane is making improvements in its processes that soon will be touted industry wide not just in America but around the world. McWane even graciously credits FRONTLINE with speeding such efforts.

FRONTLINE should champion this "new McWane." However, instead of holding McWane out as a company who answered the call, instead of reporting on the positive changes, the new and improved culture, and the exciting developments in "green" manufacturing underway at McWane, FRONTLINE simply reran a five year old segment, nodded at the new McWane and smirked.

As for FRONTLINE's careless use of the label "dangerous business", is working at McWane today more dangerous than working as a journalist? According to one of FRONTLINE's own stories, "2006 marked one of the deadliest years on record for journalists (93 alone in Iraq)." Statistics from 2007 will likely track those of 2006 according to FRONTLINE articles. Contrast that with two fatalities in five years at McWane.

McWane appears to recognize - quite humbly and respectfully - the value of life and the devastating impact of the loss of even a single life. McWane cannot possibly turn back the clock and undo past injuries or deaths because companies (people) cannot transcend time and place. There is no way to "make a death right". What can be done in the future, and what McWane appears to have done, is take steps to make sure that today and every day its plants are open, everyone who shows up for work leaves from work alive, healthy, better educated and firmly committed to the new McWane.

Based on the evidence on FRONTLINE's website and links it established, McWane appears committed to not lose or allow harm to come to its employees on its watch. Whether or not that can be said of McWane in the past is, frankly, irrelevant in any story entitled "Revisiting McWane".

I am from Birmingham and have driven by the McWane building. I have never been employed by, affiliated with or in any way related to anyone who owns, operates, controls or works for McWane. I have taken my daughter to the McWane Science Center once.

Birmingham, Alabama


Despite any improvements at McWane's facilities--which obviously would not have occurred, had it not been for unfavorable publicity from Frontline and The New York Times and a host of lawsuits--most telling in "A Dangerous Business Revisted" is Ruffner Page's adamant refusal to answer straight questions from Frontline.

It is not money, but the love of money at the root of all evil.Looking at Mr. Page and his kind, it is tough to argue with that old adage.

What about the most minimal expression of sympathy for those who lost their lives or suffered serious injury on the McWane payroll? I do not recall hearing anything like that. Not a whit of human decency. And rather than any acknowledgement that the buck stops at the top, that people in charge are in charge, merely the tired implicit understanding that the bucks go to the top. The rich get richer.

Tom Horn
Austin, Texas


I can report from firsthand, on site, knowledge that things have changed at McWane. No doubt it was because the Feds went after them as a result of Frontline and NYT. McWane earned its terrible reputation in 2003 to be sure. But there has been a concerted effort involving all levels of employees from the site head honcho to the janitor to improve the entire Environmental, Health & Safety (EHS) program. This includes Training, Personal Protective Equipment, 21st Century Management Systems, Emphasis on Safety, Emphasis on Environmental Compliance, Environmental control systems for air and water quality, Verifiable improvement to mechanical systems and overall work environments, Qualified Professionals in key EHS positions at all facilities, Accountability, and Proactivity. It's taken 5 years and it's not over.

Personally, I was disappointed that the emphasis in the Feb 2008 program focused so much on the past, knowing how hard everyone has worked to change and improve things. I don't in any way mean to diminish or reduce the magnitude of past wrongs. The effect on families is immeasurable. I was repelled by what I watched for the first 35 or so minutes last night. Absorbing it again was painful; my family was speechless. However the scale has now tipped to the side of compliance and commitment to it. The skeptics have a right to be skeptical still. I would be too if I were on the outside looking in. However, I have the benefit of firsthand experience to say things have changed, things are better. All we can do is continue what we've been doing, going on 5 years. As the DOJ guy said in the 2008 version of this story, "The proof is in the pudding."

Apologies for posting anonymously.Best wishes.A McWane Employee

Pell City, Alabama


I watched in disbelief the program last night. Yes they have had issues in the past. You ran a program years ago bringing that to our attention. Why would you spend 90% of your progarm airing the same program. Then you give 10% to the changes made. Looks like you want to want to slam the company even though they have made improvements.

Another thing.....some of these people who have died (it is a shame) seemed to be takin shortcuts that they knew were dangerous. When do employees become responsible for their actions?

The plant manager that made a deal with the government to stay out of jail is just as responsible as anyone else in the company. PLANT MANAGER............does that not mean he runs the plant???? Again, he knew right from wrong!!!! But yet he continued to pour gas on the fire!!!! Just disappointed that even at the end when you were talking about impovements you continued to mention the dead people and people who were injured!!!

Frank Smith
Indianapolis, IN


Ms. Elston,

All employers are that way good or bad. They will never admit guilt. I am sorry for your loss and if you need it there are families out there in the same position as you. Feel free to look us up.

All others,

This whole episode make me sick to my stomach. I too lost my brother in 2003 at Hayes Lemmerz in an aluminum dust explosion and every time I hear of another lost it is the same old same old. Everyone knows the dangers involved, the company cuts corners to get the job done and they lack needed training because it saves money and why on earth would you want to give the workers more of a reason to complain.

Really there is only one solution to this all. Families, friends of families and workers need to stand up and fight back. If we know there is an issue and do nothing about it are we any better than them? I too was guilty; I set idle with the thought that "Shawn should get out of his workplace" but really what solution is that when there are whole towns working in these places because it is the only work.

My hopes are that someday I will have no need to go through the papers and pick out what few workplace deaths are publicized. That I'll not have to listen to another mother, father, spouse, child, or sibling tell me that no one is listening, no one cares and they don't know how they will make it without them. Close to 6,000 a year, 6,000 families are left devastated when will it be enough to call for action, do we really want to send our children out in this work environment?

Tammy Miser
Lexington, KY


Can you imagine how much money was wasted in the civil and cirminal lawsuits much less the way the whistle blower manager was used by those who gained politically and then put out to dry? There has to be a better way to gain good enviornmentally safe working conditions.

I was particually offended by the high minded words of the last man who spoke in the piece.

Iron foundries are a satisfying place where men work. Our boys will never know that if we keep attacking our basic industries instead of helping them find better ways. Our boys will only know working at McDonalds.

We are fortunate that this particular foundry company has the resources to both fight off attacks and improve themselves.

Will Decker
Norman, Oklahoma


I was very moved by this segment on "A Dangerous Business Revisited". The working conditions of these plants in our so called "modern times" was a surprise to me and another sad reminder of what greed does.I want to commend Robert Rester for standing up to this corporation! I truly hope that more and more people will begin to take stands on other issues that involve the welfare of others as well as our delicate environment. Robert - you did an honorable thing and I am sorry that you have had to suffer for it while those who are responsible continue to prosper.

Susan Stone
Honolulu, Hawaii


Kudos for airing this important story. Forgive me for not rushing out to congratulate McWane for finally agreeing to operate under the "minimum" requirements of the OSHA standards. Afterall, these minimum standards have been federal laws since the mid-1970s.

Given the company's long history of abuse, proof of its conversion can only be assessed after millions of work hours without serious injury.

I thank Frontline for not airing the entire text of the CEO of McWane given his excuses and whining about the difficulty of running a safe operation, I think we got the point as to the CEO's true attitude to safety and health.

There is no question of the need to better enforce minimum safety standards readily available for all to read at www.OSHA.gov. However, free trade advocates should consider how companies from advanced industrial nations with regulatory compliance standards compete in the marketplace against off-shore companies with no EHS regulations. Consumers should consider this point as well in every purchasing decision.

Final point: the OSHA citation history for every company in the U.S. is available on-line at www.osha.gov for all to see.

Phoenix, AZ


I have worked in the safety field for well over twenty years. In September I lost my job as a Corporate Safety Director of a major company because the company chose profits over the safety of individuals. This really upset me. I have been interviewing for a safety leadership positon for the last six months and the interviews I have had with major companies who "say" they want to change their safety culture, but what they really want is another story. Companies want to ensure they have the best OSHA and workman comp numbers because that is what their customers want to see. Companies have gone too far into the human side of safety (behavior based) and forgot where it really starts and that is the true commitment of senior management.

Naperville, Illinois


I worked for a company who was owned by McWane about five yearsago. After talking to some of my old friends who still work there,It really sounds like McWane has improved the working conditions there.

trussville, alabama


This was a truly great documentary. I salute you for your diligent work. And now for my comments:McWane's callous disregard for workers is inherent in the way companies do business in the Anglo-Saxon world. It is historic, maybe even cyclical. My memory banks come up with Mark Twain's novel THE GILDED AGE, about the robber barons of the 1890s, or Upton Sinclair's novel THE JUNGLE, about conditions at meat packing plants in the 1920s. (Similar examples abound in English literature--I'm thinking of Charles Dickens and G.B. Shaw, for example)Then came FDR (who was reviled by the business set as a communist s.o.b. by the same bunch of people that lionized Mussolini in Fortune Magazine in the 1930s)who brought the New Deal, and Johnson's expansion of the New Deal, the Great SocietyAnd then came the Reagan era which began with the progressive gutting of labor laws, environmental and workplace safety regulations and so forth. It began with the firing of all the air traffic controllers in the wake of the PATCO strikes, and continues to this day.Captains of industry argue that regulations are a restraint on business.Companies in civilized countries like Sweden, Finland and France have evolved to recognize that they make even more money by being good corporate citizens and treating their workers right. I'm thinking of NOKIA in Finland, for example.Companies in the US have gone back to the practices of the 1890s and 1920s--this happened under administrations ostensibly democratic (like Carter and Clinton's) and Republican (like Bush I and II). Let us not forget that NAFTA and its evil twin, permanent trade relations with China both happened under Clinton.My question is: when will companies in the Anglo-Saxon world get a heart? Grasping avarice may be good on the quarterly balance sheet, but in the long run it is bad for the bottom line.

Flavio Americo dos Reis
Madison, WI


This was the worst excuss for investigative journalism I have ever seen. Frontline and PBS gave the most Bias "news report" that they possible could. For Fourty-Five minutes Frontline belabored their past episode and did not even significantly mention the improvements of McWane. This whole report except for a breif 8 minutes and seven seconds was a personal attack on the McWane company. Frontline should be ashamed of themselves for making a program with barely any new information. Also, the fourty-five second segment on Ruffner's statment, Frontline's manipulative editors took his statement on the managers greatly out of context and made it sound as if he was putting all the blame on the managers not the company leaders. This program disgust me and this network makes me sick because of childish attempt to kick a company down that has worked hard and spent a hell of a lot of money to improve their factory conditions.

Jacksonville, Florida


I am the wife of Reginald Elston, whom was killed at Union Foundry in Alabama. I found it utterly amazing still to this day, how former and present management can be so nonchalant about the deaths that have occurred at McWane Industries. If protocol and safety issues have improved at their foundries, then maybe it will prevent another family from suffering the same tragedy I endured.

Laura Humphrey
Anniston, Al


I just finished reading David Nasaw's biography of Andrew Carnegie and while watching Frontline tonight,was struck by how little has changed in the last 100 years. We are fooling ourselves if we think that business cares about anything but the bottom line. Worker safety and our environment are not part of the profit equation. Deregulation of industry only pads the wallet of the fat cats!!

Mary Beth Civitarese
Reading, PA


home . introduction . watch online . the penalty for killing a worker? . "the mcwane way" today . updates: four workers
interviews . join the discussion . readings & links . site map . dvd & transcript . 
credits . privacy policy . journalistic guidelines . FRONTLINE series home . wgbh . pbs

posted february 5, 2008

FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of wgbh educational foundation.
main photograph © corbis, all rights reserved
web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation