Michael Larson finds an embarrassing indication of the quality of oversight in South Dakota's corporate welfare program. Adams Thermal Systems of Canton received two $50,000 economic development grants from the Governor's Future Fund in September and November, 2011. Governor Dennis Daugaard gave Adams Thermal these funds for creating and retaining jobs in Canton. Adams Thermal received similar Future Fund grants in 2004 as part of state assistance that made Mike Adams purchase of the company possible, plus another $5,516 in 2008.
Apparently the Future Fund doesn't ask for refunds when job creation results in worker elimination. An Adams Thermal machine killed worker Larry Michael Kinzer on November 7, 2011. To avoid federal criminal prosecution for Kinzer's death, Adams Thermal agreed last week to pay Kinzer's widow $450,000, to pay the Occupational Safety and Health Administration a $435,000 fine, and an additional $450,000 fine.
Adams Thermal issues corporate propaganda (posted, gallingly, on Thursday, September 5, the day of their settlement with OSHA and the Department of Justice) that "Safety has always been a top priority in our organization." Ha!, says OSHA and anyone else able to read:
An OSHA investigation following the incident revealed that managers at Adams Thermal had “instructed and authorized” employees to bypass the safety guards installed on machines, prompting a criminal complaint with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in South Dakota. Scott Allen, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Labor, said criminal complaints are “very uncommon.”
“This is quite significant because it had to do with a fatality,” Allen said. “I would put this in the significant category for sure.”
Thursday’s agreement defers prosecution on the criminal complaints.
Less than five months before Kinzer was crushed to death, OSHA fined Adams Thermal $4,500 after an inspection found problems that portended his death. According to the citation OSHA issued on June 17, 2011: “The employer did not furnish employment and a place of employment which were free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees exposed to a potential crushing and/or amputation hazard.”
The fine was reduced to $3,150 on July 14.
OSHA returned with a partial inspection the day after Kinzer died. A complete investigation opened on Feb. 6, 2012, found 47 violations — 44 of them classified as “serious” [Jonathan Ellis, "Adams Thermal Fined $1.3 Million for Lax Safety, Worker's Death in 2011," that Sioux Falls paper, 2013.09.06].
If making safety your top priority gets you 44 serious OSHA violations, I'd hate to see how many guys die on the job when safety is only a secondary priority.
And as citizens whose tax dollars funded a company with such callous disregard for safety and human life, we should all feel a little guilty.
p.s.: In December 2011, the Governor's Future Fund gave $2 million to the ever-beleaguered Northern Beef Packers. We have a tough time picking winners, don't we?