October 13, 2008 The Pump Handle 0Comment

Mr. Bill Oxley was working at the Bayer CropScience plant in Institute, WV on August 28.  At about 10:25 pm, a massive fireball erupted at the facility, killing his co-worker, Barry Withrow, 45.  The dramatic facts surrounding this explosion included that plant officials told the dispatchers that an emergency situation was in progress, but as far as giving the 911 operator further details: “I’m only allowed to tell you we have an emergency.” 

When I originally wrote about this disaster, I only knew this about Mr. Bill Oxley:

“A second worker was seriously injured in the explosion and being treated in a Pittsburgh hospital.”

A follow-up story in the Charleston Gazette reports that Mr. Oxley died on Friday, October 10.  He was the second worker, and he’d been hospitalized in critical condition at a burn center in Pittsburgh for 43 days. 

I’m glad that Scott Finn of the Charleston Gazette reminded me about this gentleman, who is now deceased.  There are so many times that I read news reports about workplace fatalties which also often mention that X other workers were injured in the incident.  More often than not, neither the reporters (nor I) make an effort to follow-up on the condition of those other X workers.   Did they make a full recovery, or are they still hospitalized with severe injuries?  Did they go back to their same workplace, or decide to look for work elsewhere? 

These questions remind me that our measure of workplace safety remains so crude:  Dead bodies.   

Shouldn’t we know the larger toll of workplace casualties?  Not just annual counts of dead bodies, but how many hospital days were associated with the incident?  If the worker survived, how many days were spent in a rehabilitation center?  How many months did the worker invest in continued treatment for physical injuries?   Did co-workers need care for emotional disorders (e.g., PTSD)?  How many days of work were missed by a spouse, parent, or child in order to care for the injured worker?

Mr. Bill Oxley was severely injured in late August at the Bayer CropScience plant in Institute, WV, and 43 days later he died from his injuries.  His death will be part of the Department of Labor’s census of fatalities for 2008, but that sure doesn’t seem to me like it captures the true social and economic consequences of it.

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