PO BOX 199 SHEFFIELD S1 4YL ENGLAND WWW.HAZARDS.ORG
A WEEK OF DEATH
I find myself strangely conflicted these past few days. Watching the space shuttle disintegrate, seeing distraught families, the public memorials, sadness throughout the world, moving stories of the astronauts - all adding to the accumulated sadness of the past few years.
The conflict comes from the fact that my work - all of our work - deals with death and illness every day - in many ways the same death that the astronauts faced. They died doing their jobs, just as (statistically) about 120 other Americans died doing their jobs last week. (not including the 165 who die every day of occupational related disease, of course)
We generally never hear about the others - the 18 who die in the workplace every single day. We don't hear about them mainly because they're just regular people and most of them die one at a time, often in small towns, publicly memorialized only in a short, one-day newspaper article.
Some never even seem to have names, because the names are withheld until the next-of-kin is notified, and by the time that happens, the media has lost interest.
Because of the shuttle crash and the huge pharmaceutical products plant explosion in North Carolina, last week was a bit different. These dead were "luckier." They died in larger groups and when people die or are injured in large groups, they get more press. A fund has been set up for the children of the astronauts.
Following the North Carolina explosion, almost every paper in the country had a story and carried the names of those who died (at least the first three who died at the site). The local papers even had their photos and stories of their lives.
The more we know, the sadder we are. We can admire their ambition and their struggles, we can identify with their parents, children or spouses:
I'm apparently not completely alone in these feelings. The Washington Post had an interesting editorial this week, noting that four U.S. soldiers died this week in a helicopter crash at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan:
"Like the seven astronauts who perished Saturday, they were volunteers, taking on risks they understood well in service of their country. Beyond their units and their families, their deaths attracted little notice -- a paragraph or two in some newspapers, not even that in others."
The Post notes that the astronauts are mourned because they "come to embody national aspirations of greatness, and human aspirations to reach beyond ourselves" but suggest that "we might spare a moment also for the four who died near Bagram, and the others most of us will never hear about…. a total of 47 deaths [in Afghanistan] since the fall of 2001."
"The prayers of a nation were offered yesterday in memory of seven astronauts and their families, and rightly so. They gave everything in service to the nation, as did the Bagram four and so many more."
So these are the questions I'm left with: What determines how much press a workplace death gets? Number killed at same time? If the 18 people who die every day in America's workplaces all died at the same time, there would be national headlines. Most, however, die one at a time, hardly noticed by anyone except their family, friends and co-workers.
What about heroism? Does the fact that you "knowingly" face danger for a higher cause make you a hero? Fighting against terrorism in Afghanistan? Exploring the frontiers of space?Knowingly working in a dangerous workplace to feed you family?
What about giving your life for your country? Did the astronauts sacrifice their lives for the country, or for the exciting work that they had always dreamed of doing? What about the public works employee who dies in an unmonitored manhole? Did he give his life for his city?
Is a life valued more because someone volunteers for dangerous work? Some volunteer to join the armed forces, possibly to be sent overseas and killed for their country. Others "volunteer" to do hazardous work on construction sites, where they might die working to feed their families. Is it more courageous going into battle or space, knowing that your "employer" is sparing no expense to make sure you get out of it safely, or does it take more courage to go down into a 10-foot deep unshored trench, knowing your employer couldn't care less if you live or die?
The embodiment of "National aspirations of greatness?" and "human aspirations to reach beyond ourselves?" What about normal human aspirations to go to work in the morning and come home alive in the evening?
Of course, maybe the guys in the trench and the people in the Columbia have more in common than we think. There have been a number of articles in the Post and other papers about cutbacks in safety and maintenance that have reached alarming proportions in the eyes of some experts.
Below is a list that I culled from Google of all who died in the workplace over the past week. In addition to the deaths in North Carolina, the Shuttle and Afghanistan, I came up with ten. Statistically, somewhere around 100 more workers were killed in their workplaces last week.
Even if their children don't get college funds and they don't get a speech by the President, or even their picture in the local newspaper, they deserve a little recognition as well. They're out there somewhere, but their names are not easy to find.
Limberg Aguilero Zarco, a 20-year-old man, was killed at the Trus Joist MacMillan plant in Colbert, Georgia. Zarco's chest had been crushed, likely as a result of operating heavy equipment at the plant.
Mustafa Boyraz, a 34-year-old Annandale, VA man, was crushed to death January 27 when a granite slab fell on him at a company in the Merrifield area of Fairfax County, police said. A 21-year-old Woodbridge man also was hurt, but his injuries were not life-threatening.
A mechanic was killed January 22, in Charlotte, NC when a dump truck he was working on fell on him. Authorities say the victim, whose name was not released pending notification of his family, was fixing a tire on a rental truck at Hertz Equipment Rental about 12:30 p.m.
Chief Warrant Officer Mark S. O'Steen, 43,
of Alabama; was killed in a helicopter crash at Bagram Air Force Base
Husband, killed in the crash of the space shuttle Columbia.
John Black Sr., of Wapanucka, a Johnston County, OK, road worker, was killed in an accident while co-workers were trying to pull his road grader out of a ditch. Road foreman Danny Lowe says Black was spreading gravel when his grader became stuck. Lowe says the co-workers were stretching a heavy-duty tow rope, a shank snapped and crashed into the cab of the grader, hitting Black in the head.
HAZARDS MAGAZINE WORKERS' HEALTH INTERNATIONAL NEWS