Nothing will be done

Today’s El Mercurio shows that Chile isn’t likely to do squat to improve worker safety in the wake of the San Jose mine disaster.

While the country has leapt to jail a stressed-out kindergarten teacher who killed a student by forgetting the girl in a hot car, the owners of the San Jose mine continue to walk the streets.

El Mercurio has the scoop of what the country is planning to do to reform workplace safety. Will state companies stop buying from mines with active safety complaints? Will gross negligence become a criminal, rather than civil, affair? No and no (unless you’re a kindergarten teacher).

The measures being contemplated are a portrait of mealymouthed bureaucratese:
-Certify workers in best safety practices
-Do something or another to get the safety organizations to focus more on small companies
-Encourage small companies to create “joint committees,” which I guess means worker-manager committees
-Move bureaucrats from one part of the labor ministry to another

I think the test of the reforms should be “would any of these have prevented the San Jose mine collapse?” And the answer in this case is clearly no. The workers didn’t need more safety training — they knew damn well the mine was unsafe. The insurers and the government safety company didn’t need more knowledge — they are world leaders in knowledge of mine safety. Joint committees? To discuss what? A reorganized labor ministry? Why? The problems here were a lack of mine inspectors and a lack of teeth in any inspections that may have happened. The mine was closed for safety violations and was reopened. The opening of any inherently risky workplace like a mine or factory should require a complete safety inspection, paid for by the company. Any owner of a workplace where workers die on the job should be investigated. Any workplace that accumulates some amount of valid complaints from workers and authorities should lose its right to exist, much less to sell its products to the state.

This is the bad news of the mine rescue. By saving the workers’ lives, the government seems to think it has excused itself from real reform.