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


An axcellent program and the NYT and PBS are to be commended for exposing a situation which in many ways is all too common.

Having been involved as an expert witness in over 200 industrial accident cases over the past decade I can attest to the fact that many accidents are the fault of the employer for not providing proper safety equipment and guards at machines.

What the articles and program failed to mention is that because the Worker's compensation awards are so very low, victims of industrial accidents are often forced to sue the manufacturers of the equipment on which they were injured in order to obtain reasonable compensation. This places the burden on our courts and the tort system.

montclair, nj


Accountability in our society can be very fickle. On the one hand the State of New Jersey fires frontline social worker and her supervisor for the death of a child. Chronic under funding of public welfare programs has created endless stories like this one.

But as your program has so graphically demonstrated the owners of large privately owned corporations act with impunity with the lives of their employees. The lesson for me is that justice is always secondary to money and wealth in our society.

Tom Curtis
renton, wa


As a former foundry worker and Steelworkers Union safety committeman, I salute Frontline for this excellent piece of investigative journalism.

The slaughter in America's workplaces continues unabated while the Bush administration has the unmitigated gall to talk about and divert precious public funds to "Homeland Security." Ask the wife or husband of the blast furnace millwright how "secure" there home is when death by carbon monoxide poisoning or molten steel hangs like a toxic sword of Damocles; ask the retired lead smelters, the brass founders, the shakeout machine workers how secure they feel tethered to oxygen lines, choked with complex silicosis; ask the people who live in the "cancer clusters" that surround the chemical plants and refineries of America.

With 6,000 lives lost annually through industrial "accidents" (not to mention the far greater numbers who succumb to indusrial disease), the death toll is tantamount to two World Trade Center bombings a year for the last 30 years. Where is the "homeland security" to protect against that terrorism?

I'll tell you: it lies in broadcasts like last night's "Frontline". And why? Because only when there is awareness, only when there is outrage, only when there is an understanding that these aren't "accidents" at all, but the collateral damage of an industrial war for the almighty dollar; only when we realize that IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY will will there be sufficient public upheaval to do something fundamental about it.

Anthony Prince
oakland, california


As a safety professional, I feel that Mr. Jeffress was correct in his view that OSHA is not properly aligned to handle these types of corporate murderers and repeat offenders. Mr Henshaw put up a good front trying to defend OSHA's powers, (on behalf of the current Administration) but I could tell he shares the same frustration (he is a true safety professional-not a politician).

There are three components of effective safety programs. Having a strong a thorough written program for guidance. Providing workers with the proper tools, equipment, time, and training to do their jobs safely. Last but not least, having a strong but fair enforcement program.

OSHA preaches these and looks for these three componenets when evaluating companies. It's a shame they don't have all of these effective components in-house. Get to work Congress! These issues need to be resolved to not only protect our precious economy, but more importantly our workers livlihoods.

John Johnson
chelsea, mi

FRONTLINE's editors respond:
You can read elsewhere on this web site an analysis by Prof. David Weil of where OSHA has been most (and least) effective in the past and what it will take to make it more effective in the future.


Dear Frontline,

I have been in commercial construction for 13 years. Luckily, the philosophy of the companies I've worked for is "SAFETY FIRST", period.

Being one who is subject to OSHA inspections, I am disgusted that OSHA and our judicial system (maybe I should say politicians), have allowed these horrible conditions to exist and for so long.

I asked my daughter to watch this program with me last night, so she would understand why, in all these years, I've told her "Safety First". This program showed her how awful an unsafe work environment can actually become with continued ignorance, neglect, and disrespect for safety.... which adds up to the cost of human lives.

This was a very strong program. I am grateful that this company has been publicly exposed. I hope that it will bring enough attention to workplace safety, especially within these companies, that the lack of safety policies and procedures will be tolerated no longer.

There are a great deal of companies out there whose safety practices ARE the principals of the company. For those employed by companies like McWane, please do not allow these conditions to continue..... Safety starts with you!

Kari Rockafellow
tulsa, ok


Thanks to all those willing to talk on camera, and all the work that went into the making of the McWane story.

I think you may have actually saved a life.

toronto, ontario


As usual, you provocative programming identified another "cancerous" situation within our idustrialized society.

I agree with some previous comments that OSHA isn't the sole way to keep these accidents from occuring and to provide a safer environment for our most valuable assets, our workers. I believe there has to be a combination of an OSHA with more teeth, and a willingness for these types of companies to monitor their own programs by analysis and investment of time and money.

Also workers themselves can keep themselves out of harm's way by not working for companies like McWane. If McWane all of a sudden experienced a shortfall of job applications, maybe this would wake them up!

Unfortunately, McWane brings back memories of America at the turn of the century, where workers had no rights and the big robber barons ruled with an iron fist.

Diane Thompson
southaven, mississippi


This truly was a dangerous business. As a owner of another dangerous workplace safety business, it concerns me greatly.

In my construction business a day does not go by where I am not reminding my employees and myself of the responsiblity of workplace safety.

McWane obviously failed in ther attempts. However your show seemed to emphasize that this is a goverment problem and is best taken care of by OSHA. Big Brother cannot solve all our problems and they connot force people and corporations to work safely.

To an outsider looking into McWane, what I see is a company who hired very unqualified people. People who would walk into a elevator shaft with the elevator running. Place a hand near a rapidly moving conveyer.Placing a flammable product in an incinerator.

McWane obviously failed at inproving workplace safty and educating their employees. Their employees also failed. Puting a paycheck above one's own life must be a difficult decision one I hope I never have to make. Safety and comonon sense go hand in hand. All the people that comprise a corporation are the only ones who can truely make it safe.

Dan Caldwell
st louis, mo


Thank you for your report. It was heartwrenching to see that a company like McWane can continue to operate with such deadly conditions. My husband worked at Tyler Pipe for 25 years, but only 2 yrs. under the McWane regime. He would only say that it was bad. Little did I know how bad it was. Many times I have wished that he had never left the position he had as well as the security of the job. However, after seeing and reading the investigation, I am proud of him for leaving. He took a stand against the unhuman treatment of his employees. He could not do it, even for the money.

teresa bradberry
tyler, texas


What can folks like me do? I am shocked, appalled, and want to do something?

Jennifer Diggs
charlotte, nc

FRONTLINE's editors respond:
David Barstow, the New York Times reporter on this story, replied to a similar question during the live question Times Forum. Here's what he said: "The former OSHA administrator, Charles Jeffress, said to us that one reason the agency lacks the tools to deal with a company like McWane is because there simply has been no groundswell from the public to change the laws. Those changes have to come from Congress. The current OSHA administrator, John L. Henshaw, who can be reached at 202-693-2000, believes that the laws and penalties are strong enough. He declined, however, to say whether killing a worker by willfully violating safety rules should be increased from a misdemeanor to a felony. As for McWane's customers, there is no easy way to identify them. They typically sell through distributors. But they also often sell to municipalities and local water utilities. You could certainly check with your city hall or local utility to find out whether they use McwWane pipes or valves or fire hydrants or fittings."


I was greatly intrigued by the articles published this week in the NY Times and when I noticed there would be a Frontline show on Thursday, I knew I had to watch. The articles and the program were absolutely sickening. As someone mentioned, this is like a true version of Upton Sinclair's, The Jungle. That a large national company such as this is allowed to exist in America is heartbreaking and unbelievable. My heart goes out to any worker who takes a job with a McWane subsidiary.

This company has gone far beyond any reasonable mistakes or errors. McWane is intentially and maliciously putting its workers in harm's way. Their response letters make a mockery of the truth as told by former workers, OHSA, FBI and other federal agents, and the investigation by PBS, the NY Times, and the CBC.

I will be writing to McWane, both the Birmingham and national OSHA offices, the president, and the congressmen in NJ and AL. I am so outraged that an American business is so rewarded for treating its workers worse than farm animals, even going so far as to deny them bathroom breaks. I urge anyone who sees the program or reads the articles to take action and work to change this sad example of American industry.

Katrina Petersen
new providence, nj


Your coverage on workplace safety at this particular company was compelling without being sensational. I was thoroughly sickened by the blatant negligence of McWane. It was shocking to learn that these genuine abuses still occur today. What is truly appalling is the fact that McWane's obvious disregard for the law and life has been occurring for so many years.

Regardless of the ideological ignorance expressed on this discussion section, that only the republicans place corporate profits over the average man, the proof that OSHA under both republican and democrat administrations have been aware of McWane's transgressions prove that the democrats are just as guilty. Contributions speak to both parties (just tally the richest in Washington and see who comes on top).

We as citizens must hold Congress responsible for alocating money to such an inept department (OSHA).

fay, ar


Congratulations on an excellent show. Bringing to light abusive management systems such as McWane will help improve some worker protection systems, but it is still up to the American public as a whole to put a stop to it.

I work in the safety field and can say companies need to put profit and production first, or workers, management and safety professionals won't be needed.

What is needed is for companies to make safety a core value that makes a safe workplace part of their culture. People cannot look to OSHA to give this to companies. This comes from mangaement and employees working together to improve results. Any changes in OSHA come through congress which makes OSHA nothing more than a political pawn. The only changes OSHA will make have to come from the American people and their unwillingness to let a company and a family like the McWanes continue to profit from others misery.

Marc McClure
aurora, ne


A very sad story. Sad to think that in these days and age,a compassionate government would allow such conditions to exist. Those were the days in the 1800 but should not be anymore. The McWane family should be held responsable just as much as a gang member who murders his brothers. What is the saying?" an eye for an eye"?

Where are the Unions?

mimie Dudek
mackinaw, illinois


The "Dangerous Business" articles and Frontline program were outstanding. I think the businesses owned by McWayne are the exception; most employers in dangerous businesses realize the public relations and lost work time costs associated with poor safety and health conditions.

It is ironic that mainstream television media has really missed the boat on what is essentially a productivity and public health problem. While sensationalizing marginal health risks like asbestos in schools and home indoor air quality, attention to occupational safety and health is rarely on the media's radar. The public should be more supportive OSHA's successful efforts.

I think employers found in violation of egregious, willful, and repeat safety and health violations should be subject to civil litigation brought by injured or sick employees. McWane is not burdened--not by OSHA, workers compensation premiums, or the media - where are the lawyers when you need them?

PS - Did your lists of criminal prosecutions include those brought by "state-plan states"? For example, the former Michigan AG (Govenor Granholm) has successfully prosecuted employers for willful violations resulting in construction fatalities.

lansing, mi


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