Monday, April 6, 2009

News Reporters

Remember in one of my previous posts I complained about how OSHA can get slammed, but we can't defend ourselves? Well here's a great example. Today the Buffalo News posted an article about the citations they received for conditions that lead to the death of one of their reporters, Tom Borrelli. Here is the opening paragraph:
"Sixty-two reporters died doing their jobs last year. As far as anyone knows, only one of their employers— The Buffalo News — has been recommended for fines by a federal agency."
What the reporter, Michael Beebe, failed to mention, and maybe even investigate, is that there was only one reporter fatality that OSHA had jurisdiction over! I did a little number crunching from the Newseum's Reporter Memorial website, here's the breakdown:

57 - The number of reporter fatalities that happened in FOREIGN COUNTRIES! 56 of those by violence and one automobile accident (all were under the jurisdiction of the country where the fatality occurred).

3 - The number of reporter fatalities that were automobile related (local police jurisdiction).

1 - The number of reporter fatalities that were helicopter crash related (FAA jurisdiction).

1 - The number of reporter fatalities that were caused by the news organizations failure to protect their employees - OSHA.

You know what's really funny? If you scrubbed the corporate name and profession of Tom Borrelli, gave the story to another news agency, they would write scathing articles on how callous the company was because the company knew of the conditions that the employee was potentially exposed too and still did nothing. They would then editorialize for weeks about how badly the company deserves to be penalized, and how it's a travesty that OSHA doesn't do more. But make this a news organization and it's "Hands off buster!"

I thought this quote was particularly telling of the arrogance that news agencies feel:
"Susan Bennett, a former wire service reporter who serves as a vice president of the Newseum, a tribute to the journalism profession, said she and her staff are not aware of any of the 1,913 reporters on the memorial wall whose employer was cited for their deaths.

“To my knowledge, it doesn’t apply in any case, with any news organization, on the journalists’ memorial,” she said.

She and other journalists said that the OSHA decision breaks dangerous new ground for news organizations and that the thinking could spread to other occupations.

“It’s one thing if you’re a coal-mining company, but I can’t even imagine this,” she said of OSHA’s proposed fines for The News. “That would apply to transit companies that send bus drivers into bad neighborhoods. You can just extrapolate that example into almost any industry.”"
All that Buffalo News has to do is look across town (figuratively) at the Tonawanda News, which in early 2007 was inspected and received citations totalling $57,500. That case actually went before an ALJ (Administrative Law Judge) and we prevailed (final penalty was cut to $26,000, but we won every item).

We've all inspected jobs where the employees puff up their chests and say something like "This is a dangerous job, but that's just the way it is and nothing can make it better." If a reporter is in a combat situation? OK, that's high risk. But to die just climbing a ladder to watch a football game? That's not OK. Ever. What the Buffalo News doesn't seem to understand is that in OSHA's eyes, a persons life doesn't have any less value just because they are a reporter.


  1. I can't help myself. From the story:

    "Sullivan said the newspaper never required reporters to use the press box. 'Our assignments have always been to cover the game, not to go up in the press box,' she said."

    And it is called a 'PRESS' box because...

    Dying covering a war is honorable. Dying in a bad neighborhood is part of the job. Dying climbing to a press box at a high school football game because of inadequate stairs? Kind of like going to Iraq and being electrocuted in the shower. Perhaps KBR would like some of these reporters on the jury for the civil trial.

  2. Good catch. I saw that article too. I was thinking they were combat related.

  3. And contrast this with the typical article about a workplace death: "Joe died. Everyone's sorry. Great guy. No one knows why (he fell, the trench collapsed, the machine ate him). Manager says he can't understand how this happened because they have such a great safety program (oh, and he wasn't following safety procedures.)

  4. New OSHA Chief today, April 8th.

    Jordan Barab

    Jordan Barab joined the House Education and Labor Committee in February 2007 as Senior Labor Policy Advisor for health and safety after four years at the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board. He served as Special Assistant to the Assistant Director of Labor for OSHA from 1998 to 2001, and directed the safety and health program for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees from 1982 to 1998. From 2003 to 2007, he was also the creator and author of the award-winning weblog, Confined Space.

  5. A good person with good ideas and a good philosophy about worker health and safety.

  6. What is that old saying -- careful what you ask for.

  7. beats up OSHA