Friday, August 19, 2005

After A Death: Better Vests For Officers Becomes a Priority

It's a general truth in the health and safety field that nothing much changes until you've got a body count -- and not even then, unless you're organized.

True to form, a week and a half after officer Wayne "Cotton" Morgan was shot and killed by the wife of an escaping prisoner, Kentucky governor Phil Bredeson announced yesterday
that he will work to make sure all Tennessee corrections officers are properly equipped.

"That is something that I am going to look at, to see how we can get the proper equipment into the hands of the people," Bredesen told reporters after delivering a speech to an education conference. "I took that away as a to-do from this whole experience."
Morgan wasn't wearing a vest when he was shot. According to his partner, officers had stopped wearing the vests because they were too bulky.

Morgan was Secretary-Treasurer of AFSCME Local 2173 and AFSCME is also getting involved:
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, which represents correctional officers in Tennessee and around the country, plans during a convention tomorrow in Albuquerque, N.M., to call for federal correctional officer safety legislation in response to Morgan's death.

"When a department mandates a policy and a procedure for our officers to follow, we should have the equipment that is necessary to follow through with that policy," said Mike Marette, the union's assistant director for corrections.
One other issue this story raises: Personal protective equipment (PPE) -- respirators, gloves, ear plugs, etc -- , while often necessary, are considered to be the least effective means of protection. This is partly because PPE is not generally as effective as engineering controls or eliminating the hazard. But part of the problem with PPE is that workers often don't like to use it because its uncomfortable or presents other hazards, such as goggles that fog up, earplugs that make it hard to hear warnings, or bulky vests that make it hard to maneuver. This leads to employers complaining about careless, lazy, pigheaded workers who refuse to use their safety equipment, when actually it's often a rational choice that workers make given the problems with the equipment and the (often correct) feeling that there are better ways to control the hazard.

When PPE is necessary, as bulletproof vests generally are, the least they can do is find some that fits properly.