Confined Space
News and Commentary on Workplace Health & Safety, Labor and Politics

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Laws Of Nature, Laws Of Man (Some Men, At Least)

Now here's something interesting. ("Interesting" in a tragic sort of way.)

Two public employees have been killed in the past two weeks in perfectly preventable trench collpases: Jose Rodriguez Garcia of Mission, Texas and Tony Poole, of Byron, Georgia.

Both articles about the fatalities initially stated that OSHA would be investigating the accidents. Both articles were wrong -- OSHA won't be investigating -- and both were later corrected.

You see, Garcia and Poole were public employees, and in 26 states in this country -- including Texas and Georgia -- public employees are worth slightly less than other human beings. They don't get OSHA inspections, they don't get OSHA investigations, they don't have the right to a safe workplace and their employers don't get fined or penalized if they kill workers by ignoring well-recognized safety standards and best practices that private sector employers are required to follow.

One more thing: Check out the original headline in this article about Garcia (it was later changed):" Vibrations from car may have caused man's death." Now, a person who doesn't know a whole lot about trench collapses and how to prevent them might think, "Oh, well, shit, what a tragic coincidence, a car going by causing that trench to vibrate just when the poor guy was inside it. Who could have predicted that? Unlucky bastard."

Well, lots of things cause trenches to collapse -- vibration, water, soil conditions, and, who knows, maybe even sun spots and the juxtaposition of Jupiter and Mars. It isn't quite as important for employers and employees to know exactly why trenches collapse, as it is for them to understand that trenches collapse -- they collapse all the time. It's really more a function of the law of gravity -- which is why we have the laws of man to protect workers from the laws of nature.

The problem is that the laws of gravity apply to everyone, whereas the laws of man apply only to private sector employees. A lesson that the news media, and family of Garcia and Poole are only now finding out.

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