Friday, August 06, 2004

"I don't want one more person to go through this devastation"

I wrote almost a year ago about the death of Steve Durbin who "was crushed to death under more than 1000 pounds of wet soil when the trench he was in collapsed on top of him." I was particularly pissed off, as I often am, at a statement made in the newspaper article about Durbin's death:

"It was just a horrible accident," [Health Police Detective Eric] Rardain said. "There doesn't appear to be any negligence on any person."
Two months after Durbin was killed, another worker died in a trench in nearby Zanesville.

I've been corresponding with Durbin's sister-in-law, Phyllis Oliver, over the past year about the devastation Steve's death caused his family and the senselessness of these compeletely preventable deaths that seem to happen every week. When Gary Dillon was killed in a trench collapse a couple of weeks ago less than five miles from where Steve Durbin died, Oliver and Durbin's wife, Jo Ann, had had enough.
After seeing two more deaths from trench collapses in less than a year since her husband's death, Durbin was fed up. Along with her sister Phyllis Oliver, she is researching trench-collapse injuries and deaths in hopes of bringing attention to the issue.

"I don't want one more person to go through this devastation," Durbin said. "There's got to be a stop to it. There's got to be an awareness made."

Durbin said one of the major problems is meager enforcement of OSHA standards. Strict safety standards exist for all trenches greater than five feet in depth.

OSHA regulations state that for such a trench, "Each employee... shall be protected from cave-ins by an adequate protective system."

For those trenches, some sort of safety mechanism must be used, such as a trench box, sloping the trench to stabilize the earth or some other acceptable measure.

Oliver complains that small fines for violations don't sufficiently motivate contractors to follow proper safety procedures since the amounts don't outweigh the potential savings for cutting corners.

"In order for companies to take it seriously, you have to slap them with a big enough fine that it hurts them," she said.

More importantly than increased fines, Durbin and Oliver want all people -- construction laborers, supervisors, families and the public at large -- to know about the dangers and preventative measures for excavation sites. They argue that since the regulations aren't always strictly enforced by OSHA, responsibility lies with the construction workers to make sure they're in a safe working environment.
Following Durbin's death, I wrote:

It is our responsibility -- those of us who know that these deaths are preventable -- to educate the press and the public that these deaths are preventable. Workers won't be safe until they understand the hazards of trenching and how to prevent them. Ultimately, workers need to have the right -- and the power -- to simply refuse to enter unprotected trenches, and they need the backing of a strong union and the support of an outraged community that has decided they've seen enough of their neighbors die.
If more people get mad, and start going to the press like JoAnne Durbin and Phyllis Oliver did, (and more local papers like the Newark Advocate, write articles) employers will have a harder time claiming they didn't know. Workers will demand to be trained, demand that the regulations be followed, and hopefully refuse to go down into an unprotected trench until it is made safe.

Let's take back our workplaces.

Note: Check out OSHA's webpage on Refusing to Work Because Conditions are Dangerous