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Employers evading obligations in work accidents large and small

As many of our Denver readers know, just seven miles northeast of the city sits an oil refinery. Some of our older readers might recall the Commerce City oil refinery blast of 1978 that killed several workers and left others with serious injuries.

Four years ago, a similarly deadly explosion rocked an oil refinery in a town more than a thousand miles further from us: Anacortes, Washington. Seven people died in that horrific workplace accident. A recent National Public Radio report questions “whether anyone will be held accountable for the human cost” of the Tesoro gasoline made there.

Unfortunately, there is far too often a culture present in which employers try to deny not only responsibility for tragedies, but often try to evade even the significantly more modest financial obligations in much smaller accidents that result in injuries to employees.

Six months after the Washington refinery explosion, a state investigation concluded that Tesoro had deliberately, repeatedly broken the law. Washington state levied a $2.39 million fine against the refinery, the largest workplace-safety penalty in state history.       

NPR notes that while the figure might sound impressively large and painful, Tesoro “brings in that much revenue in about half an hour.”

However, even that relatively small fine was challenged by the company and cut by a state insurance appeals board judge. The record fine has been cut by more than two-thirds. Observers note that the fine could drop even more, as wrangling continues before the board.

Thankfully, most workplace accidents are not of this magnitude. But the story of the refinery accident reveals how common it is for companies to fight to hang on to every penny they can. That attitude can be found in tragedies and even in workplace accidents resulting in injuries requiring employees to miss work and receive workers’ compensation while they recuperate. For those injured on the job and denied workers’ comp benefits, an experienced attorney can help with an appeal.  

Source: NWPR.org, "In Refinery Explosion, Who's Accountable?" John Ryan, July 8, 2014

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