Monday, January 23, 2006

The Loss Of A Great Man

Not a famous man, but a great one.

Last Spring I wrote about the death of Mike Morrison in a 12 foot deep trench. Plenty of workers are killed every year in unshored trenches that violate OSHA regulations, but I highlighted Morrison's case because he was "only" buried up to his waist and was conscious during much of the rescue attempt, yet the weight of the soil was enough to crush his internal organs and kill him. There was an important lesson there for those who think they can just dig themselves out if they're caught in a trench collapse.

Today I received a letter from Morrison's step-daughter, Michelle Lewis, about what Morrison's death did to her family and their anger over his preventable death. I'm reprinting part of it below, but go here and read the entire letter.
How could Mike have lost his life at just 48 years old? He was strong, skilled and one of the most respected plumbers in Pinellas County. That Thursday morning, our mom and Mike talked about their retirement dreams and what they would have for dinner. “Give me a kiss goodbye, my prince,” my mom asked. How could Mike have gone to work just miles away, never to return?


The Occupational and Health Administration cited Mike’s employer, B&B Plumbing, with five violations. The nine-foot trench was not inspected or secured properly before Mike and others were sent into it. No sloping, shoring or shielding was provided, which is required by OSHA for any trench deeper than five feet. B&B was fined $21,000 by federal officials. Is this a serious consequence? Will this help employers learn to protect their employees from harm? When thinking about my family’s loss, this fine seems disproportionate and absurdly inadequate, but nothing can bring Mike back to us. Our pain will never go away; neither will the images of Mike’s death that haunt us. I can only hope that people will learn from Mike’s death and will take every measure imaginable to ensure the safety of workers.

My sisters, mother and I have felt compelled to stop at work-sites as we have passed them in recent months. We have shared Mike’s story with friends and strangers. We want to honor Mike and to remind people to be safe at any cost. To my family, Mike is a hero.

He died providing for his wife and family and ultimately teaching others to be safe. He gave my mother the happiest times of her life, as she gave to him. My mother often says with sadness in her eyes and longing in her heart, “This never should have happened to Mike.” She is right. Mike’s death was preventable, as most trench collapses are.

Somehow, my mom tries to go on. It is a struggle that words cannot express. This year, we will continue to mourn the loss of a great man, a hard-working man who cherished my mom and his family, adored his cats and liked to take walks at Seminole Park. We will find happiness in our memories and strength from kind friends and family around us.

We will pray for the safety of workers everywhere and we will continue to share Mike’s story to advocate for safe working conditions. That’s what Mike would want.