HR Daily News

Examining a Dangerous Workplace
January 10, 2003

At least 4,600 reported injuries to workers and nine deaths since 1995 at McWane Inc. pipe foundries make the company among the most dangerous firms to work in America, according to the New York Times. Safety and health officials have cited the company for more than 400 violations, surpassing its six major competitors combined.

In a nine-month investigation, the New York Times, PBS and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation documented McWane’s effort for greater profits and alleged indifference to safety and environmental protections. Federal and state regulators have called the company lawless and rogue.

Through a series of acquisitions and mergers, layoffs and production demands, McWane, one of the largest makers of iron water and sewer pipes, has been able to create vast profits. Based in Alabama, the company employs more than 5,000 workers, according to the Times.

Production Demands, Safety Restrictions

When McWane bought Tyler Corporation of Texas in the early 1990s, it eliminated one of the three shifts at the plant to increase production. Instead of working 8 hours, employees would now work 12-hour shifts.

The company began to put restrictions on safety equipment as well. Protective aprons, safety boots and face shields were no longer stocked, the Times reports. When the company replaced heat-resistant gloves that cost $17 with $2 cloth gloves, workers used duct tape to protect their hands from burns.

Four years after McWane acquired the Tyler plant federal regulators found 150 safety hazards during inspections, according to the Times.

Throughout the plant, molten metal is seen spilling from the cupolas, bulls and ladles, OSHAs report said. The forklift tracks transport the metal, and the ground behind the trucks often smokes with puddles of molten metal. Workers are covered with black residue from the foundry sand. Many work areas are dark, due to poor lighting and clouds of sand. Despite all the ignition and fuel sources, exit paths are not obvious. Many workers have scars or disfigurations which are noticeable from several feet away. Burns and amputations are frequent.

The Times reports that investigators believe the company’s written safety policy belies its actions toward workplace safety.

In essence, they are doing it in form, but not with substance, inspectors wrote. Inspectors tell the Times that the firm’s supervisors weren’t held accountable for safety but were held accountable for production. In addition, the company disciplined workers who reported injuries for violating safety rules, the Times reports.

All of this led to extremely low employee morale, the Times reports. At times, the Tyler foundry has had nearly a 100-percent turnover rate.