Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Every Day Is Workers Memorial Day

This is a workplace health and safety site and I write frequently about workers dying on the job, almost always from causes that could have been prevented by simple compliance with common OSHA standards. But we talk too often in terms of statistics, or names, or snippets from newspaper articles. Then the people are forgotten and we move on until all-too-soon, it happens again.

It is all too rare that the reality of death in the workplace comes home -- what it means to the family and friends of those who lost a loved one. I received the following note the other day from the sister-in-law of a worker who had been killed in a trench collapse that I had written about previously. It's not an easy read, but ultimately, it's the sorrow and anger that these tragedies generate that give us the energy to keep on fighitng. This letter brings home what we're all fighting for much better than I ever could. (At the request of the family, I've changed the names.)
I read with interest the article you wrote about trench deaths. I say with interest because John Stevens was my brother-in-law. My only sister's husband. Needless to say, she is devastated. He was her soul mate. They did everything together. My heart is broken because he was more than my brother-in-law. My family dropped in-law a long time ago and just considered him a brother. He was my protector and friend. When I was going through my divorce and lost my home, it was John who suggested I and my two sons move in with them. I was a single mom at the time and he didn't let anyone mess with me or my kids. I guess you could say he was my kids surrogate dad.

Enough of the personal stuff. I am pissed. He didn't have to die. Nor did the man from Zanesville that died recently. He left behind a 17 year old son who was his best friend. He won't get to see his son graduate next year or walk him across with him at his football game for parent's night. I talked to her for about three hours one day on the phone and she, too, is devasted.

The report from OSHA has been filed and all they received is mainly a slap on the wrist. Three citations for $5000 a piece. $15,000 for a man's life. They were only cited for "serious" violation, when they could have been cited for "willful" violation. If you have been in business for as long as they have, have project specs that state how deep a trench can be without shoring, and you still don't provide the protection, isn't that "willful"? And in turn, the grief-stricken (Ha) project engineer was quoted in the paper as saying that they will fight those citations and get them migated down.

What a slap in the face! I feel OSHA is not doing their job! I went to OSHA.gov and for the same citations in a Rhode Island worker's death, they were fined $89,000! Their manual does not specify between states. I want to go around publicly, via news, TV, whatever and call OSHA on their citations and explain to the public why they do what they do. Nobody is safe if the laws aren't enforced.

Oh, and the "police investigation", I have a copy of and if ever there was room for improvement, this is it. They didn't take any statements from witnesses, have the accident directions ass backwards, and so forth. 6 pages of nothing. I know you say public workers have no investigation, no fines, so on. That is a shame. But this hasn't been any better. They just went through the motions to say they did it.

Keep up the good work. Maybe sometime down the road our paths will cross and we can work for a common goal.

I'm sorry I am blowing off. My sister actually e-mailed your article to me because she doesn't sleep anymore, so she surfs the web and vegetates. I not only lost my brother-in-law, but I am watching her die a slow death and there is nothing I can do for her.