The owner of the shipyard that President Donald Trump toured today to highlight his major military expansion has been fined for endangering workers, exposing them to potential falls and amputations.
In one of the most serious cases, a Huntington Ingalls shipyard in Louisiana that has since closed was fined after a worker died in July 2011. Equipment crowded the compartment of the vessel where he worked, preventing him from using a ladder to reach the ceiling. So he instead climbed onto piping and then a metal cover marked “danger high voltage” before being electrocuted.
The shipyard settled with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, paying a $5,000 fine. At the time, the maximum fine for a serious violation was $7,000.
Since October 2008, OSHA has fined Huntington Ingalls shipyards more than $95,000 in five cases. However, the fines pale in comparison to the $38 billion in contracts the company has won over the same period from the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy.
A recent Reveal investigation found that the Navy and Coast Guard’s seven major private shipbuilders have received more than $100 billion in taxpayer dollars despite serious safety lapses that have endangered, injured and killed workers. The story detailed how these shipbuilders have few incentives to focus on safety.
Trump met with shipbuilders and military officials today at a Huntington Ingalls shipyard in Newport News, Virginia. He delivered a speech on the deck of the USS Gerald R. Ford, a $12.9 billion aircraft carrier that is set to be commissioned later this year. During his visit, Trump said new warships would help “project American power in distant lands.”
Huntington Ingalls Industries and other shipbuilders stand to benefit from Trump’s planned shipbuilding expansion, and it appears they will continue to face little accountability for putting workers in danger.
The shipbuilders rely heavily – and in some cases exclusively – on the Navy and Coast Guard. While the agencies say workplace safety in private shipyards isn’t their job, former OSHA officials say that the Navy and Coast Guard could force the shipbuilders to focus more on safety if they threatened to withhold contracts for workplace safety issues.
At the same time, the House has overturned a President Barack Obama-era executive order that would have forced contractors to reveal previous safety problems. The Senate is scheduled to vote on the repeal Monday.
Trump recently announced plans to boost security and military spending by $54 billion, which he said would require spending cuts for most federal agencies.
Trump’s proposed budget could mean less enforcement in dangerous industries such as shipbuilding, said David Michaels, who stepped down as the head of OSHA in January.
“If you increase hazardous work and decrease OSHA funding, it is a recipe for more workers being killed,” said Michaels, who is now a professor at George Washington University.
Meanwhile, the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday overturned an OSHA rule that allowed federal workplace safety regulators to cite companies for failing to log injuries and illnesses from the past five years, rather than six months, the previous standard.
During the campaign, Trump vowed to increase the Navy’s fleet to 350 ships, up from 274. It would mark the largest expansion of the Navy since the Reagan years.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the deputy White House press secretary, did not return an email requesting comment on whether the Navy would step up oversight over workplace safety in private shipyards. A spokeswoman for Huntington Ingalls Industries did not immediately return a message requesting comment.