Be Careful What You Wish For


Since the ratification of the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, Caterpillar has been on a tear. Record sales, record profits; the future for the company looks very bright indeed. It appears to be brightest for our former CEO, Mr. Jim Owens who last year received a salary, incentive bonuses, executive perks and stock totaling $22.5 million dollars. All things considered, I’d say that was a pretty good year for a retiree on a fixed income.

Another never-ending story is the depths some managers will sink to in order to improve their safety metrics performance. Supplemental and full-time workers alike have been under a barrage of disciplinary actions after reporting injuries and illnesses. Stories of discipline for injury policies abound around the CAT chain. You just wonder when management will come to their senses and stop beating up the injured workers and start focusing on the true causes of all injuries and illnesses, exposure to hazards.

One of the companies CAT models its “blame-the-worker “policies after was recently cited by OSHA in a high-profile case. DuPont and one of their contractors were fine nearly $117,000 by OSHA for 17 violations stemming from the blast that killed a contractor and badly burned his co-worker at a fire at the Tonawanda, NY facility.  According to, the companies were cited for violations related to failing to make sure that any chemical residue and flammable vapors were cleaned out of the storage tank before welding was performed on the tank ( ). One person commenting on the story reported that the contractor had received a safety award from OSHA the previous year.

DuPont is the home of the Safety Training Observation Program or STOP as it is known. STOP is a blame-the-worker behavioral “safety” program used at a number of CAT facilities. Rather than focusing on identifying and controlling employee exposure to hazards such as inadequate lockout/tagout procedures, machine guarding or ergonomics, STOP disciples believe the workers are the root of all injuries and illnesses and that safety is improved by observing workers.

Another company CAT admires for their safety program, BP, had a big safety award celebration on April 20, 2010 on the Deepwater Horizon just hours before it exploded killing 11 workers. One could almost forget that in 2005, the BP refinery in Texas City, Texas blew up killing 15 workers and injuring 170. BP was cited with the second largest total OSHA penalty ever — $21 million – for safety violations, which led to the massive explosion. In 2009, BP was fined $87.4 million, largest OSHA fine ever, for failing to comply with the terms of a settlement agreement to correct the hazards at the refinery that lead to the 2005 blast.

Speaking of BP, Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that exploded, killed 11 workers and caused one of the largest environmental disasters in U.S. history, said in SEC filings on Friday, April 1, 2011, that 2010 was “the best year in safety performance in our company’s history,” which meant top executives were granted bonuses reflecting those results.

Despite the 11 deaths, Transocean’s safety metrics still put 2010 ahead of 2009. That year, four Transocean workers died and the company waived executive bonuses “to underscore the company’s commitment to safety.” Twenty-five percent of the total Transocean executive bonuses are linked to the safety data, which is divided into two components: the rate of incidents per 200,000 hours that employees work and the potential severity of the incidents. ( )

Like BP, Tesoro was a safety award winner that received recognition is for reducing “recordable injury rates”, the lost-time injuries that must be reported to OSHA. On April 2, 2010, an explosion at the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, WA killed seven workers.

Three days after the Tesoro tragedy, 29 workers died in an explosion in Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia. Massey CEO, Don Blankenship, immediately began blaming God and the workers themselves for the catastrophe meanwhile touting Massey’s safety awards. These awards recognized low levels of lost-time injuries.  Six months before the worst mining disaster in 40 years killed 29 Massey workers, CEO Blankenship said, “At Massey Energy, we embrace our commitment to safety at all levels – from executive to miner…and the awards reflect the company’s dedication to safety at all of our facilities”( ).

All of the attention focused on safety metrics performance seems to come at the cost of the big picture -job-related injury, illness or death. Focusing on worker behaviors rather than exposure to hazards will not get us to the Vision 2020 goal of zero injuries. The blame-the-worker programs will only drive down the reporting of injuries, not the fact that the injuries are still occurring. Furthermore, the focus on hazard exposure will be lost.

We recently had the fourth contractor killed at a CAT facility in the Peoria area in recent years. On April 17th, 2011, 34-year-old Troy Bryner died of injuries he received in East Peoria Building KK. Bryner worked as a senior mechanical technician for ATS and he deserved to be able to go home to his family.

We all go to work to provide for ourselves and for our families. We shouldn’t fear for our lives, nor should we fear for our jobs because we report work-related injuries and illnesses. If you cannot get a hazard corrected, call for your union safety representative. If you are injured, report it. If you are interviewed regarding the injury or illness, demand that you want your union representative present. If you are not provided a representative, tell management you are invoking your Weingarten Rights and do not wish to answer any questions. If you are told you are being suspended or terminated, demand that the company provide you a union representative, even if you are a Supplemental employee.

The union tried to negotiate fault-free injury, illness, near-miss and hazard reporting during 2011 bargaining, but Caterpillar was not remotely interested. At CAT, the mindset is that management can discipline their way to good health and safety performance. I hope they are careful what they wish for.