Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Oops. Did OSHA Forget That Public Employees Are Second Class Citizens?

Last Friday:
CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. -- A Denver Water employee was killed overnight when a valve in the high-pressure water main he was working on ruptured, sending a crushing stream of water toward him. After the accident, Shawn Patilla, 35, of Denver was trapped in the trench and and his co-workers needed help to get him out.

The Arapahoe County Coroner's Office said an autopsy determined that Patilla died from head and neck injuries as a result of being hit by the water at a pressure of 90 pounds per square inch. "The transmission and distribution crew was disconnecting from a 24-inch water main and reconnecting service to a new 8-inch line when the valve in the 24-inch line blew out," said Craig Austin, with Denver Water.

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration was called in to investigate the accident.
DENVER -- The federal agency that investigates workplace fatalities will not be involved in further investigation into the death of a Denver Water employee.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration does not have jurisdiction over city, state or county municipalities, according to the area director.
So what's the deal here? Did OSHA forget that Colorado is one of the 26 states in the country where OSHA doesn't cover public employees? It wouldn't be a complete surprise. Few people are aware of this gross injustice. Last Spring, for example, two public employees, Jose Rodriguez Garcia of Mission, Texas and Tony Poole of Byron, Georgia were were killed on the job. But Texas and Georgia are two other states that provide no OSHA coverage for public employees. Both articles about the fatalities initially stated that OSHA would be investigating the accidents. Both articles were wrong -- OSHA wouldn't be investigating -- and both were later corrected.

All three of these workers were killed in trenches, pretty dangerous work to be doing if your employer isn't even obligated to comply with basic safety precautions and if workers have no right to call for an inspection, no will any independent investigation be conducted if anyone dies, nor will anyone be fined if safety precautions were ignored.

You may recall the Labor Day death of Robert J. Creamer, 25, at the Georgetown Waste Water Treatment Plant "who allegedly drowned in a 600,000-gallon sewage vat."
According to the Georgetown Police Department, Creamer was in the process of taking liquid samples from a large, open concrete tank early Monday morning.For some reason, unknown at this point in time, Creamer fell into the tank and drowned.
Well, I haven't seen the investigation report, but generally when someone drowns in a tank in a wastewater treatment plant, it's likely because he was overcome by hydrogen sulfide or oxygen deprivation, and it's likely a violation of OSHA's Confined Space standard. Of course, in this case, we'll probably never know because there was no OSHA investigation because Ohio is yet another state where it's OK to kill public employees.
The Labor Day death of a Georgetown Waste Water Treatment Plant employee has been deemed an accidental drowning, said Brown County Coroner Dr. Tim McKinley and Georgetown Police Chief Forrest Coburn.

"We have no indication that it was anything but an accident," said Coburn.

Robert J. Creamer, 25, of Russellville was allegedly in the process of taking liquid samples from a large open concrete tank, known as a clarifier, when he somehow fell into the tank and drowned, said officials.
"Somehow" fell in. Just "an accidental drowning." Right.

And let's not forget Eric Johnson and Clyde Anthony Jones, 40, who were killed in a methanol explosion at a wastewater treatment plant in Florida. That incident is also being investigated by their employer, the city of Daytona Beach (although in this case, the US Chemical Safety Board has also decided to investigate the incident.)

Oh, and don't worry, even thought OSHA has pulled out, there will still be an investigation into the death of Shawn Patilla -- by Denver Water, Patilla's employer. Let me see if I can guess what the result will be: "just an accident." Prove me wrong, Denver.

Meanwhile, the total fines for the deaths Shawn Patilla, Robert J. Creamer, Jose Rodriguez Garcia, Tony Poole, Eric Johnson, Clyde Anthony Jones and other public employees that I probably don't even know about will come to about nothing, zippo, nada.

Which is apparently about how much this country values their lives.