a dangerous business
mcwane story
ira coferthe capitolfactory footage
join the discussion: january 9, 2003


... someone is accused of mistreating cats or dogs and there is a public outcry for that person to go to jail, but thousands die every year at work and the ones crying are the lonely family members at home.

I know the feeling my brother was one of the statistics he died on the job and the company he worked for paid a $450 dollar fine. It's just not right and no one in Washington cares because we are just poor people and we can't finance there re-election campaigns. Well i guess that is about enough from me, when will it end. Thanks for allowing me to vent

Ernest Roberge
waterville, maine


What an outrage. I was so upset after watching this show. I had the same emotion when I saw pictures of the Iraqi women and children that were gassed by their government. I must say that since that feeling, a peace has come over me. I think it's knowing that management at this company WILL end up woking in these plants, only harder and hotter. You see, they will all be in hell putting in some long hours. I am more upset at the system now.

jason c
olympia, wa


McWane is just at the low end of a much more extensive ladder, the whole plutocratic oligarchy that rules the US is promoting greed and sequestering wealth among the few richies.

All of the social and economic problems faced by Americans are the result of an uncaring oligarchy that kisses up to the plutocrats. It is a system that is ruled by bribes and is blind to needs. Moreover, every country around the world suffers the same greed and power mania. Six billion victims and a few thousand plutocratic oligarchs. It is a lousy world.

Robert Gibson
aurora, il


I had visited McWane Pipe in Birmingham, Alabama twice over the past year to service electrical equipment we had previously sold them. These two visits resulted in the first (and only) time in my 5 years of field service engineering whereby I had to write a safety disclaimer for a service report. This was due to (in my opinion) unsafe working conditions relating to electrical wiring and cabinetry, the bypassing of safety interlocks in our equipment and dangerous labor practices both in dealing with our electrical gear and the equipment it runs.

When I had asked one of the electricians on-site how the facility could be in such a state, his reply was; "Since the plant is so old, most of it has been 'grandfathered in' regarding OSHA regulations". I don't know if the statement holds any truth to it, but that was the explanation he gave. I can only hope the guys I had worked with those short couple of days I was there are still OK.

, fl


Clearly OSHA is an ineffective administration to handle companies that are determined to work around the rules to make a buck. However the GOVERNMENT in general is not powerless when they put their minds to it.

The IRS can put a company out of business plain and simple. The methods used may not be fair but they are indeed effective. In the case of McWane Corporation the means to bring them to their knees would be to make it too expensive for them to do business by raising their insurance bill. If that doesn't bring them in line, our friends from the IRS could be called in to do their thing. It can be done, it has been done and in with McWane Corporation it should be done.

Marcel Joossens
williston, florida


The tremedous amount of regulations created by OSHA for worker safety are mostly open to interpretation. As a Safety Manager in manufacturing I witness a great deal of discussion of the legal ramifications of non-compliance but very rarely encounter dicussions regading portecting workers. Your examples primarily point to the construction industry, which has it's own OSHA book of standards. Your examples are also very extreme.

The vast majority of corporations spend a great deal of money educating and protecting workers in order to reduce the risk to injury and illness. It's simply good business to do so. However, OSHA needs to streamline it's regulation language and increase inforcement at the same time in order to preclude any vaugue standards that are either mis-understood or delibrately ignored by employers. On the other hand - employers who choose to comply to the letter of the Federal Code endure many costs associated with prevention - so it may be simply cheaper to do business in Asia. Why was manufacturing decreased? This may be a chief reason.

M Johnson
las veags, nv


These deaths are murder and conspiracy to commit murder. Prosecutors should be bringing cases up to the top management.

They should be treated the same way we treat terrorists. OSHA regulations are completely ineffective. This is what the death penalty should be reserved for.

wayzata, mn


As a student studying business, I found your report both enlightening and engaging. I commend your efforts to reveal these deplorable practices and shed light on respectable and ethical companies, like ACIPCO.

As someone who will be entering the business world in the near future with a strong interest in entrepreneurship, I plan to do everything possible to adopt a philosophy and business strategy similiar to ACIPCO's. ACIPCO is a clear example of a company that has integrated safety and environmental concern into their business strategy, and has been able to experience excellent productivity and financial results. As a result of this strategy, they have saved lives, protected our lands, and at the same to reduced costs and avoided the horrible publicity that companies with corrupt management, like McWane, must face.

I will be joining in the efforts, as one reader suggested, sending letters to government officials and McWane executives stressing the vital necessity for improved safety requirements, OSHA practices, and punishment for the criminal behavior of those, like McWane, who act so unethically and inhumane.

Timothy Carr
boston, ma


I found your report on the McWane Industries very interesting. I've worked in the construction industry for 25 years. I'ts always been known as a dangerous business. From the first day I started to now,the industry has changed dramatically. Safety along with the technological advances have become the driving forces. The McWane idealogy is neandrathal at best. With insurance companies pushing safety so hard the amount of claims have to be effecting the bottom line.I find it hard to believe that they have found an insurance company gullible enough to insure them.

Gregg Zurawski
racine, wisconsin


Thanks to all involved for an outstanding piece. Anyone familiar with the civil and criminal penalties allowed for violations of occupational safety and health regulations and those allowed for environmental violations knows that there is a vast difference.

Those who violate EPA regulations face fines of thousands of dollars per day for as long as they have been in violation, along with potential personal criminal liability under the Environmental Crimes statute.

In contrast, OSHA violations carry no personal criminal liability and relatively insignificant fines. Thus, corporations and corporate officers are extremely careful not to violate EPA regulations, but are much less concerned about OSHA violations. It is fair to say that fish are better protected than employees in this regard. The only effective limits on activity such as that depicted in your piece are those imposed by liability lawsuits, strong unions, and public opinion. It is sad that the Federal government and our state governments, which is to say our elected representatives, have failed in their responsibility to the working Americans who are the backbone of this country.

David Johnson
oklahoma city, oklahoma


While I understand that the pipe foundary business is inherantly dangerous I find it difficult to understand why the profitable McWane Companies and owners seem unwilling to improve such deplorable worker conditions. In contrast, the segment featuring the highly progressive and also profitible American Cast Iron Pipe Co. (ACIPCO) appears to be highly responsive to worker safety.

As an environmental regulator it is very apparent to me that McWane cares about as much for the environment as it does its employees. It does not care.

In my opinion, the CEO(s) of McWane should be prosecuted at the highest level for negligence, murder and willful distruction of the environment.

I hope that more is done about this and other companies that are operated in this diplorable way by the Bush Administration.

Michael Backunas
leicester, ma


I wonder what types of donations McWane has made to politicians over the years which encouraged the government to not investigate blatant criminal violations. Truly disgusting.

Joshua Smith
hoboken, nj


The title of your report is unfair to the foundry industry which has made great strides in protecting it's workers over the last decade while our competition in China and beyond goes unchecked from an environmental and safety perspective. Americans purchase goods every day from companies that clearly do not care about the environment or worker safety. It is not fair to the industry to call your report, "A Dangerous Business." The American Foundry Industry is not a dangerous business!

Not posting comments showing the other side of an issue is not fair and it is misleading the general public. THAT IS NOT WHAT PBS OR INDEPENDENT AND OBJECTIVE JOURNALISTS DO! Post all the comments if you truly want a fair and equitable discussion or post none; otherwise you are guilty of censorship which in iself has proven to be as deadly as the journalistic report you presented on McWane.

Nobody wants to see anyone injured or killed in the workplace. Perhaps McWane can do more to promote a safe workplace but as a veteran of 15 years in the foundry industry your suggestion that someone or some company would choose production over safety is something that nobody I know of would ever condone and to suggest it is insulting to me as a foundryman.

Michael Lenahan
spring lake , michigan


I was outraged after viewing your program, and wanted to do something about it. I checked with some of the local water departments in my area and they had not heard of "McWane" products.

After researching this further I found that McWane sells its products under various brand names such as Kennedy, Clow, Tyler, and Atlantic States. I have since voiced my opinion and demanded a boycott of these products throughout my region. I would ask that anyone else who was angered by this do the same.

Jaques Carmichael
new hope, pa


As president of the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses, I am familiar with cases such as McWane, Inc. The irony of the situation is that McWane's philosophy ultimately produced the opposite of its intended effect. Its goal like any other company was to increase production and profits, but McWane's disregard for safety (and the resultant loss of life, overwhelming injuries and illnesses, and anticipated lawsuit costs) actually hampered production as evidenced by high levels of absenteeism and employee turnover rates.

While McWanes practices were on the extreme end, the fact of the matter is that employee health and safety needs to be elevated in the national consciousness. In fact, a 2000 study on the Costs of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses estimates total direct and indirect costs associated with worksite injuries and illnesses to be more than $150 billion.

Many of these costs could be minimized through worksite health and safety programs implemented by a multidisciplinary team comprised of occupational and environmental health nurses and doctors, safety engineers and industrial hygienists.

Occupational health nurses, for example, promote safety awareness, conduct safety audits and inspections, and perform post-accident reviews. They also evaluate protective equipment, provide first aid and training, educate workers about safety issues and conduct regular health histories and physical examinations. The programs they develop not only elevate the importance of employee health and safety, but also improve the bottom line:

Since 1978, Marriott Corporation has grown a nationwide system of nurse case managers to follow up on employee injuries, and has saved over $6 million per year.

Since implementing an integrated Environmental & Safety Management Plan for its 6,000-plus employees, Arizona Public Service Company has saved $1.6 million, just in disability management.

By proactively addressing health and safety concerns within the workforce, companies that use occupational health nurses and other members of the health and safety team are able to decrease injuries and illnesses, improve safety performance, increase worker morale, lower insurance rates and effectively manage costs related to workers' compensation health claims and training for replacement workers.

The good news is that many companies do recognize the value in health and safety programs, and regularly employ occupational health nurses and other health and safety professionals.

Unfortunately, the U.S. workforce has a long way to go. Just ask McWane's workers and their families.

Deborah DiBenedetto
yonkers, ny


Thanks to you and the New York Times for bringing this appalling story to a broad audience.

If you do a Google search for the leaders of McWane, you'll discover that the evil men who run McWane serve on the board of several Alabama financial institutions as well as Leadership Birmingham, etc. What do you suppose could any of these evil men teach anyone about leadership? And how could any corporate board consider them respectable enough to oversee the governance of any organization?

These evil men also give large sums of money to their churches and to their alma maters. How hypocritical can you get? What I find truly amazing is that this drive for profits above human decency is not prompted by a bunch of Wall Street analysts because McWane is PRIVATELY HELD. So, it is only the sheer, unmitigated, colossal GREED of the McWanes and their corporate officers that is responsible for this atrocity. SHAME.

I agree with an earlier writer who suggested that those who run McWane should all be sentenced to an eternity at Tyler Pipe or one of their other hell holes.

I have written to President Bush and all of my Congressional representatives. Please, everyone -- do the same!

philadelphia, pa


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