Friday, January 23, 2004

Yet Another Trench Death

But a good article

I was having a drink with a friend and colleague earlier this evening and we were complaining about how the excellent series of workplace safety articles by David Barstow in the NY Times had not yet seemed to inspire other reporters to do more indepth articles when workers die. We generally get three or four paragraphs describing the death, the mourning family, and the company SHOCKED that such a freak accident could have happened. And then maybe six months later there's a short article about the OSHA fine.

And, as usual, I come home, turn on the computer and find the same old story of yet another preventable death in a 12-foot deep unshored trench makes me want to scream:
Donald DeHart knew the trench he was working in was dangerous, and he feared for his life, his wife said Wednesday.

"He had told me a few days before that - two, three days in a row - that it was going to happen," Wanda DeHart said. "He told me, he said, `If it caves in I'm not going to make it.'"

A partial collapse covered his feet in the days before the one that buried him in a 12-foot-deep trench Monday, DeHart said. It took rescue workers 11 hours to recover his body.

Because her husband worked as a day laborer, his wife will get no workers' compensation for his death.
The only silver lining to this tragedy was a very good article in the Ashville Citizen Times:
The death of Donald DeHart leaves a bereft family and a number of unanswered questions about why he was at the bottom of a ditch 12 feet deep that hadn't been shored up.

OSHNC standards require that any trench deeper than 5 feet must be shored up on its sides or sloped to reduce the danger of collapse. Such a trench must also have ramps, runways or other safe methods of access and egress, according to Juan Santos, a spokesman for the N.C. Department of Labor. After DeHart was found, David Walker, public information officer for Garren Creek Fire Department and Fairview Fire and Rescue said, "It just seems the trench could have been made safe. I work for the U.S. Forest Service and we have a saying: `You have a right to a safe assignment.' I think everybody should have that right."

The accident that claimed DeHart's life reminds us that OSHNC regulations are not just another way for a government bureaucracy to harass employers and workers. They are in place because obeying those rules saves lives. If the ditch that collapsed on DeHart had been constructed according to OSHNC standards, DeHart would almost certainly be alive today. Yet, both employers and employees often ignore OSHNC regulations because complying would cost extra money or take additional time. The price for not doing so can be far more dear than an OSHNC fine.
This is the kind of writing that needs to appear in every local newspaper and television news whenever a worker is killed in this country. People need to be educated over and over again that these deaths are not inevitable, they're not really even accidents. They are crimes and should be treated accordingly.