Shared duty for worker safety

The bell tolled 89 times Tuesday for those in Washington state who died from injuries or illness related to their work.

Twelve times it rang for residents of Snohomish County. The annual Worker Memorial Day ceremony in a small garden outside the offices of the Department of Labor &Industries in Tumwater honored the memories of those who had died in 2014. But it also served as a call to action and presence of mind for workers, employers and officials to do more to prevent workplace deaths.

That dual purpose was stated no more succinctly than by Deanna Hogue, the Lake Stevens mother of 19-year-old Bradley Hogue, who died in July while working for a landscaping company in Duvall. Bradley Hogue, on his second day on the job, died when he fell into an augur used to spread bark, apparently attempting to clear the machinery while it was running.

“I think it is very special that they acknowledge the lack of safety in the workplace and acknowledge the fallen,” Hogue said, as was reported Wednesday by Herald writers Kari Bray and Jerry Cornfield.

Hogue rang the bell for her son.

Those whose memories were honored represent a variety of trades, just as their deaths represent a range of circumstances. Not all of those honored died in circumstances that would be considered preventable. Among those were Ron deQuilettes, 52; Steven Hadaway, 53; Stephen Neal, 55; and William Welsh, 66; who died while working on homes that were swept away during the Oso landslide on March 22, 2014.

But other deaths may have been preventable.

Ken Otto, 50, a Woodinville resident, died after he was struck by a faulty Boeing 777 seat airbag that he was attempting to repair in November at Boeing’s Everett plant.

Another Snohomish County resident, James Keaton, 47, died in January 2014 of lung disease related to long-term exposure to the fumes from paint and thinners.

L&I organizes the ceremony to ensure that these lives are not lost in vain, that they serve as a reminder about the importance of workplace safety issues. Toward that end, L&I also has the ability to investigate such deaths and levy fines where violations of safety and health standards have occurred. In the case of Bradley Hogue’s death, the landscaping company, Pacific Topsoils, was fined $199,000 for 16 violations. Four Boeing suppliers, including Jamco America, were fined a total of $11,000 in Otto’s death.

There were no fines meted out in Keaton’s death as L&I could not tie his illness to any one particular job or employer. Deaths, such as Keaton’s, put the responsibility on lawmakers to provide better environmental health protections for workers. Once again, the Legislature this session failed to allow a vote on a bill that would have banned the use of certain flame-retardant chemicals used in children’s clothing that pose a cancer risk to firefighters.

But there also is a responsibility for workers, themselves, to be mindful of the risks around them and their co-workers. For those businesses not already planning to participate, workers should ask their employers to take part in the Safety Stand-Down, May 4-15, which encourages employers to revisit safety standards and training for workers. For more information go to tinyurl.com/LnISafetyStandDown.

Eighty-nine times is too often to hear that bell rung.

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