Thursday, February 05, 2004

Hey Harry, Get Out the Dead Worker Template Again

Here's another article about the sewer worker, Jacob Britt Anderson, who was crushed to death earlier this week when the walls of an 18 foot deep trench collapsed on top of him. This article left me rather upset, and National COSH Coordinator Tom O'Connor captured my feelings in a comment:
I read this news article too and what most struck me about it was that the news story contained no question as to what the hell the employer (who was right there operating the backhoe) was doing sending the guy into an unprotected 18 foot trench. Nor did it question the owner's putting the blame on the victim who he claimed wasn't supposed to go beyond the safety area. Instead, the article focused entirely on what a swell job the firefighters did responding and how the local people helped out by giving them coffee.
To which I say "amen."

I've thought about this before, but I'm thinking it would be nice to set up a training program for journalists, especially local journalists who get assigned to cover stories like this. Maybe encourage them to do a bit of research into regulations and best practices, into the background of the company. Have they ever been cited by OSHA? Maybe even talk to some of the workers to see if this the conditions that killed their co-worker was unusual, or whether they risk their lives every day. Are they free to complain about the safety of their jobs and suggest improvements without being retaliated against? Any recent injuries or close calls? Do workers get any training? If so, what do they learn? Are they free to report injuries or illnesses?

Right now, it seems that covering workplace fatalities is one step above (or maybe the same step) as writing obituaries. They all sound basically the same:
(Name) or "An unidentified worker" (age __) was killed today when a (x foot deep) trench collapsed on top of him. The worker was dead when rescue personnel arrived.

(Name), owner of (company) said he couldn't be more sad about the death of (name). "My workers are like family to me. This is just a terrible loss, and terrible shock." He added that he couldn't figure out for the life of him how this could have happened. (Supervisor) said that (dead worker) was told not to go down into that trench. "I don't know what made him go down there," (supervisor) said.

(Mayor's name) praised the local fire and rescue department for their swift response. "It's just too bad that they were too late." He added, however, that during his administration, the fire and rescue department was able to purchase (name of equipment) and (name of equipment) which it has utilized in several other local trench tragedies this year.

(Dead Worker) had (number) children. His co-workers considered him to be (choose adjective: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean or reverent). "He was the greatest, most loving guy," said (co-worker). "We're really going to miss him."

The police department has ruled the death an accident. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating to determine whether or not federal regulations were violated.