The New York Times reported today that Walmart is spending millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours fighting a $7,000 fine assessed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) after a Walmart employee was trampled to death by a crowd at a store on Long Island.
Though the company has taken steps to address the problems that led to the unfortunate incident, it is continuing to resist the fine because it feels that “the government is improperly trying to define ‘crowd trampling’ as an occupational hazard that retailers must take action to prevent”:
Wal-Mart’s all-out battle against the relatively minor penalty has mystified and even angered some federal officials. In contesting the penalty, Wal-Mart has filed 20 motions and responses totaling nearly 400 pages and has spent at least $2 million on legal fees, according to OSHA’s calculations. The dispute has become so heated — and Wal-Mart’s defense so vigorous — that officials at OSHA, an arm of the Labor Department, complain that they have had to devote huge numbers of staff time to the case, including 4,725 hours of work by employees in the legal office.
“OSHA wants to hold Wal-Mart accountable for a standard that was neither proposed nor issued at the time of the incident,” said David Tovar, a Wal-Mart spokesman. “The citation has far-reaching implications for the retail industry that could subject retailers to unfairly harsh penalties and restrictions on future sales promotions.”
I’d like to think that a regulation along the lines of “don’t let crowds run through your store and trample your employees to death” would be fairly uncontroversial. But Walmart’s resistance is part and parcel of a Big Business culture that abhors common sense safety regulations.
For instance, Massey Energy, which owns the Upper Big Branch mine that exploded in April, killing dozens of miners, was part of “a surge in the number of challenges to mine safety citations [that] has clogged a federal appeals process, allowing 32 coal mines to avoid tougher enforcement measures.” And BP, the company that had a well explode and kill 11 workers, “spent years battling federal regulators over how many layers of safeguards would be needed” at such wells.
Safety regulations are put in place to, among many things, protect workers from the sort of corner-cutting that makes a company’s bottom line look better. And in BP’s case, the environment, as well as workers engaged in the clean-up, are now also at risk. In light of such disasters, it’d be nice if every proposed regulation weren’t treated as an assault on capitalism itself by the Big Business community (though I’m not holding my breath).