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Saturday, May 17, 2014

Deadpool States: Saw VII - The North Dakota Car Wash

Al Jazeera America

At night North Dakota glows almost as brightly as Chicago as gas from more than 9,000 wells is just burned off, NASA satellite photos show. A third of the natural gas gets wasted this way, according to Ceres, a nonprofit that tracks the environmental records of companies. If companies are willing to waste $1.2 billion of natural gas per year, imagine the calculus on job safety.

Oil-field work, while inherently dangerous, need not result in nearly as many deaths as North Dakota reports. The problem is that state legislators have enacted laws that place a low value on human life. That value is so low that it makes no economic sense for employers to invest in worker safety. In North Dakota, preventing accidents costs much more than paying off the families of dead workers.

Here are the facts. The one-time death benefit for workers killed on the job in North Dakota: $1,200. If the worker has dependent children, that payment goes up by $400 per child. The state also covers documented funeral expenses, but only up to $6,500.

Those rates of payment may have been appropriate in 1919, when North Dakota’s workers’ compensation law first took effect. But in 2014 they are worse than heartless — they are an incentive to avoid investing in equipment and practices that will reduce worker deaths.


But the best single indicator of callous disregard for human life shown by North Dakota lawmakers is the benefit authorized for orphans, a maximum of $15 per week. You read that right — 15 bucks a week.
At current staffing, it would take federal job safety inspectors 111 years to inspect every job site in North Dakota.

That strikes me as a form of state-sanctioned child abuse that every child advocate, every member of the clergy, every moral leader in North Dakota should denounce daily until it is replaced by a payment schedule that reflects the needs of orphans, not the greed of those who donate to political campaigns.


Years ago I interviewed Joshua Zimmerman, who was 15 years old and working at Valley Dairy Car Wash in Grand Forks when his arm was ripped off by an industrial-size cloth-drying machine that was being used without a door.

The North Dakota workers’ compensation program held that the teenager was entitled to nothing for the loss of his arm despite the fact that the machine had been used for months without safeguards and a manager had been warned about the risks. Josh told me he never got a dime...

We have freedom.
We can behave like Andy Hardy and his pristine family, or we can behave like monsters.

However, when the government supports the monstrous, then the scales are tipped and the game is rigged for the outcomes of a future of Saw, Hostel, and The Walking Dead.


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