Thursday, September 30, 2004

"Specialists" in Underground Death

$91,600. Sounds almost real money. But cheap for killing a man.

What happened:
Two of the company's (Underground Utilities Specialists) workers, Franklin Shane Mullins, 25, of Haysi, Va., and Jim Potter, 43, of Blountville, were helping lay a sewer line May 14 on Jonesboro Drive in Bluff City when a 40-ton boulder came loose and rolled on top of them.

Mullins died. Potter spent the next 5½ hours pinned under the rock at the bottom of a ditch about 12 feet deep.
What did the company do (or not do?):
State investigators concluded this month that the company ignored state and federal safety laws that could have saved Mullins' life.

The men were working in the ditch without a protective barricade or "trench box" required by law, according to an inspection report. The law requires such protections in any trench deeper than 5 feet.

"A proper trench box would have protected the workers," said John Winkler, the division's administrator. "They didn't comply."

The ditch was dug without any sloping or timbers to shore up the walls, Winkler said. It had no ladder or ramp to allow a safe way in and out, and the freshly dug dirt was too close to the edge of the trench, he said.

The company never inspected the ditch while it was being dug and didn't give the crew proper safety training, Winkler said.
And, as expected:
The company's owner, Fred Puryea, has disputed those findings and appealed the fines to the state Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

"I ... disagree with the penalties given on all counts," he wrote in a response.

Give me a break! As far as I'm concerned, this guy's lucky not to be in jail for most of the rest of his life. He didn't even come close to complying with the OSHA regulations in a trench that was over twice as deep as the law permits, and a 25 year old man is dead because of it. Anyone in the business of digging trenches should be automatically thrown in jail, no passing go, if a person is killed in an unprotected trench.

And these guys call themselves "Underground Utilities Specialists?" The name alone should cost them another $100,000. Have they no shame?

Postscript: About every two weeks I list every workplace fatality I can find in the Weekly Toll. But somehow I missed Frank Mullins. The last Weekly Toll had a little over forty names over two weeks. That comes to just over 1,000 per year. So my seemingly endless lists of bi-weekly tragedy, culled from around 15 different Google news searches, account for less than 20% of actual workplace deaths each year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Where are the rest? Many are probably traffic fatalities that don't always come up as work-related in searches. Others may be robberies that also don't come up in the searches I do. But neither of these theories would explain why I missed Frank Mullins. My fear is that a lot of workplace deaths in small, out-of-the-way towns just aren't considered significant enough to make it into the news, or at least into newspapers big enough to be indexed by Google (which says something about their circulation). It's now four months later, but the only reference I could find on Google to the life or death of Frank Mullins was his obituary in the Bristol Herald Courier which mentioned that "Franklin Shane Mullins, age 25, formerly of Haysi, passed away May 14, 2004, due to a job-related accident."

Incidentally, Merriam-Webster defines "accident" as:
1 a : an unforeseen and unplanned event or circumstance b : lack of intention or necessity : CHANCE

2 a : an unfortunate event resulting especially from carelessness or ignorance
So was the death of Frank Mullins an accident? Discuss.