Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Danger in the Workplace

September 1, 2010, 5:40 p.m. [more Sept. 1, 10:00 p.m.; Sept. 2, 5:00 a.m., 11:20 a.m.]

Honoring Those Who Built, and Build, America
(bought to you by*)

I have just come from visiting with the mother and brother of the injured workman, who fell during his work replacing windows on the University of Iowa College of Law Boyd law building. ["Man working on Boyd Law Building renovation seriously injured," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 1, 2010, online at 9:59 a.m.]

I will not now reveal either his, and their, names nor what I have been told by them until it comes from their statement, which should be available to the media shortly. Nor am I now free to say anything about the details of the OSHA investigation.

But I will be writing about workplace safety generally in this space over the hours and days to come prior to Labor Day, Monday, September 6th.

KCRG-TV9 local news has just reported, at 6:02 p.m., Sept. 1, that the worker, Tom Fosdick, has died.

By 6:10 p.m., The Gazette had the story uploaded, along with the statements from the University and the family, consistent with what I had been told by them earlier. It is reproduced below.

[Update Sept. 2, 5:00 a.m.: The Gazette's hard copy edition story is, Diane Heldt, "Fatal accident at UI under review," The Gazette, Sept. 2, 2010, p. A2 (and on "The Green Gazette"). The Press-Citizen's hard copy and online update is B.A. Morelli, "Worker dies from injuries; Was working on construction job at Boyd Law Building," Iowa City Press-Citizen, Sept. 2, 2010, p. A3. The Des Moines Register is carrying Morelli's story as well, B.A. Morelli, "Ex-University of Iowa diver dies in campus work accident," Des Moines Register, Sept. 2, 2010. The Daily Iowan uploaded its online story at 7:20 a.m., Sept. 2: Reid Chandler and Mitchell Schmidt, "Worker dies after accident in Boyd Law Building," The Daily Iowan, Sept. 2, 2010, p. A1.]

Update Sept. 2, 11:20 a.m.: And meanwhile, in a related story from the Gulf of Mexico . . . Oh boy, here we go again with the technology BP and President Obama assured us was near-perfect a week or so before the last Gulf disaster ["It turns out by the way, that oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills. They are technologically very advanced. Even during Katrina, the spills didn’t come from the oil rigs, they came from the refineries onshore." White House, April 2]: "Coast Guard Reports Blast on Rig in Gulf of Mexico," Associated Press/New York Times, Sept. 2, 2010, "2 minutes ago." "A rescue operation has begun, with initial reports suggesting that all 13 crew members were in the water, the Coast Guard said on Thursday. . . . GRAND ISLE, La. (AP) -- An offshore petroleum platform exploded and was burning Thursday in the Gulf of Mexico about 80 miles off the Louisiana coast, west of the site where BP's undersea well spilled after a rig explosion." More.

[Comment, Sept. 1, 10:00 p.m.] Last evening (Aug. 31) President Obama reported to the American people that we are, at last, out of Iraq -- albeit we're leaving behind 50,000 non-combat-but-armed-and-ready-for-combat American troops and 100,000 uncounted (and unrecognized), though much more highly paid, mercenaries and private contractors. We also leave behind, on our Chinese credit card, what's much more likely to be an ultimate $2 or $3-trillion-dollar-debt for my great granddaughter to pay off than the $1 trillion Obama mentioned .

In the course of his speech he paid honor to the "over 4,400 Americans who have given their lives in Iraq." Office of the Press Secretary, "Remarks by the President in Address to the Nation on the End of Combat Operations in Iraq," Aug. 31, 2010.

It is appropriate that he, indeed that all of us, do so. Whatever one thinks of the Iraq war, those who followed the orders of their Commanders in Chief (Bush and Obama), put their lives at risk in the sands and streets of Iraq, and made the ultimate sacrifice, are surely entitled to our respect and honor.

But there are another "over 4000" Americans who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country, and who are also entitled to our respect and honor.

And now Tom Fosdick has joined their number.

These 4340 deaths occurred not over the seven-year span of the Second Iraq War. They occurred during one year: 2009. And believe it or not, that was a low year -- perhaps the only benefit to flow from the millions of unemployed during our economic downturn. It's pretty hard to be killed in the workplace when you don't have a job. Unemployment has produced a 26% decline in workplace deaths since 2006, which would put the number that year at 5865.

This is almost as many in 2009 as all the military deaths during the Iraq War; it is significantly more than the 2752 killed in the Twin Towers on 9/11.

Moreover, when you add in the number of workplace non-fatal injuries and diseases the number is more like 3.7 million (2008). U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Injuries, Illnesses and Fatalities."

These are the men and women who have built what it is the military is defending; what it is we take for granted and use every day. These are the folks who do the sometimes literally back breaking work, who risk injury, disease and death on a daily basis, to build the high rise office buildings and condos, the highways and bridges, hospitals and schools (including law schools; three workers lost their lives building Hancher Auditorium for us to enjoy), the networks of power lines and natural gas pipelines, whose ancestors built the canals and then the railroads that spanned our continent -- and who now maintain those railroads and subways. They sweat in over-100-degree heat working in the foundries that produce our tractors.

They construct the wind farms, cell phone towers, and radio and TV towers (and then have to climb them to change the little red light bulb on top) -- including the 11 workers who constructed the 2063-foot TV antenna tower in North Dakota for KVLY-TV.

Fortunately, none of those 11 died. The 11 on the BP offshore oil rig did. And so did the 29 coal miners working in an unsafe Massey mine a couple weeks earlier.

So as someone who spends his days doing finger exercises on computer keyboards, I am in awe and deep appreciation for what these men and women are able to do, and are willing to risk in the process. I stop to speak, find out what the beef is when they're standing with picket signs, compliment them for quality work when they're on the job, thank them. And I argue with legislators and business people who do everything in their power to beat down unions, project labor agreements, the right to a livable wage, or even an increase in the minimum wage (and then remain mystified as to why Iowa's young folks leave the state for jobs in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois).

And so it was at the law school. After I put my bicycle away on the rack and gathered my things, I'd check in with them to see how they were doing. Ask them what they thought the weather would be. Josh and joke -- and thank them for working to improve the building where all I do is sit in a nice office, read and write, talk with colleagues and students, and teach a class.

But we don't introduce ourselves, and certainly don't exchange business cards. So while I've met and visited with Tom's mother and brother, I don't know if Tom was ever among those I visited with or not, though I like to believe he was. As a swimmer, I'll bet he knew my neighbor, Irving Weber.

For me, his memory, his organs gifts to others, will be something like the "tomb of the unknown soldier" in Arlington Cemetery. Someone for whom I grieve, someone who symbolizes for me those we should honor everyday, not just Labor Day; those who build and maintain America, and who risk their health and lives, for the most part, without ever receiving even recognition of their existence, let alone thanks.

Diane Heldt, "Worker dies from incident at Iowa law building," The Gazette Online, September 1, 2010, 6:10 p.m.

University of Iowa officials continue to review the Monday accident at a campus construction project that killed a Cedar Rapids man.

Tom Fosdick, 49, died Wednesday at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. In a statement, the family of the Cedar Rapids man said they were grateful they were able to say goodbye to him as a family at the hospital.

“The tremendous sense of loss we felt following Tom’s tragic accident has only deepened with his passing today,” the family said in the statement.

They followed Fosdick’s wishes and donated his organs and tissue, the family said.

“He was a generous and caring man, and he would be happy to help others even in the face of this tragedy,” they said in the statement.

Fosdick was working as a private contractor on a construction project at the Boyd Law Building. Wisconsin-based Miron Construction was the general contractor on the project, but Fosdick was working for subcontractor Swanson Glass, Craig Uhlenbrauck, Miron’s vice president of marketing, said.

Swanson employees were doing a window installation Monday when the accident happened, Uhlenbrauck said. He didn’t know specifics of the incident, and referred questions to Kevin Swanson, with Swanson Glass, who did not return a message.

“Our prayers are with that family,” Uhlenbrauck said.

The construction work at Boyd Law was suspended on Monday and it’s unknown when the project will resume, UI Spokesman Tom Moore said. The UI continues to review the accident, as do the contractors on the project, Moore said.

“I do know the incident will be reported to OSHA,” Moore said. “I do not know the status of OSHA’s investigation.”

A state spokeswoman would not release information on the UI accident specifically, but said typically in cases that involve serious injury or death, Iowa Occupational Safety and Health investigates.

“Under federal law, information related to OSHA investigations is confidential until any type of investigation is complete and a report has been issued,” Kerry Koonce, spokeswoman with Iowa Workforce Development, said.

Fosdick was an All-American diver as a prep athlete at Cedar Rapids Kennedy and joined the Hawkeye swimming and diving team in 1979, according to a statement released by UI officials.

“We extend our heartfelt condolences to his family and hope that they will find some measure of comfort in the support of their friends and community,” UI officials said in the statement.

Fosdick Family Statement:

We wish to thank our family, friends and community members for their support during this very difficult time for the Fosdick family. Your thoughts and prayers mean more to us than you can ever know. The tremendous sense of loss we felt following Tom’s tragic accident has only deepened with his passing today. We are grateful that we as a family were able to say good-bye to him. We are proud to follow his wishes that his organs and tissue be donated in order to give the gift of life to others. He was a generous and caring man, and he would be happy to help others even in the face of this tragedy. Thank you again for your support.

UI statement:

It is with deep sadness that the University of Iowa learned of the death of Tom Fosdick today. Tom was 49 years old. He was injured while working as a private contractor on a project at the UI Boyd Law Building on Monday, August 30. An All-American diver as a prep athlete at Cedar Rapids Kennedy High School, he joined the Hawkeye swimming and diving team in 1979. We extend our heartfelt condolences to his family and hope that they will find some measure of comfort in the support of their friends and community.

* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source -- even if I have to embed it myself.
-- Nicholas Johnson
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Anonymous said...

You spoke with my father and grandmother today while the rest of the family was inside talking to the dean. They later told us of your kind words and concern for my uncle. You have no idea how much this meant to us. It is very comforting to know that he touched many lives, and now he has touched a few more with his gifts to the organ recipients. Thank you for letting us know how he touched your life.

Amy Gradoville said...

I want to thank you for your comments, to the Gazette article "Worker dies from incident at Iowa law building". Through that I found your Blog. I didn't know Mr. Fosdick but my Father owned a Contruction Company, and contracted, sub contracted and worked many long days to make Cedar Rapids, and other areas of America what they are today.
I have always appreciated the hardwork, my Father, did over the years but he never recieved the accolades that a true soldier recieves BUT he was proud when a job was complete and he made sure his men(employees)recieved recognition.
I am babbling but thank you so much for taking time to connect with these workers. I am going to make sure I take time to say thank you, to those who risk their lives daily to make America what is today.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the heart-warming blog. I saw you speaking with my brother and mother while the rest of the family was speaking with the Dean.
We were very touched to hear that your eyes filled with tears as my brother and mother shared Tom's story with you.

God bless.

sajohnson said...

My condolences to Mr. Fosdick's family and friends.

I work for Metrorail, the Washington, D.C. subway system. We have had several employees killed on the job in the last few years. The most recent accident, in January of this year, killed two of my immediate coworkers and was the direct result of gross negligence by Metro.

Many people are under the impression that the family of an employee who is killed on the job can sue the employer. What we discovered is that the family of the deceased cannot sue the company or the employees responsible as long as the company carries workers' comp (WC) insurance. We also found out that WC benefits vary tremendously from state to state. In Maryland for example, benefits are capped at $75,000 if the spouse/dependent is determined to be "partially dependent". Apparently earning even a few thousand dollars per year as a substitute teacher is enough to get classified as partially dependent. D.C. on the other hand makes no distinction between 'fully' and 'partially' dependent and benefits are not capped. The attorney who represents the widow of one of my coworkers was able to convince an administrative law judge that her benefits should come from D.C., but others were not so lucky.

I posted a comment about our experience at a Maryland OSHA (MOSH) "informal conference" (we were invited and then locked out) on our union's Google group website: It was read by a GWU professor named Celeste Monforton who suggested that my coworkers' widows might find the following group helpful: It is a support and activist group of family members who have lost loved ones from workplace fatalities and employer negligence called United Support and Memorial for Workplace Fatalities.

In my opinion, the laws governing workers' comp insurance should be uniform from state to state, and the families of employees who are killed on the job should be fairly compensated.