May 31, 2007 The Pump Handle 0Comment

“On January 11, 2006, my husband and best friend, Clyde Jones, was taken from me and the children, family, friends and community…  He went to work one morning for the City that he loved to a job that he loved.  He never came home.” 

These are the words of Casey Jones, yet another heart-broken wife left widowed by a preventable workplace disaster.  Her nightmare began when her husband and two other men, working for the City of Daytona Beach at its waste management plant, were instructed to repair a damaged roof.   Mrs. Jones nightmare continued when she learned her husband—a public sector employee–and his co-workers were not covered by OSHA standards.

In a recent hearing before the Workforce Protections Subcommittee of the House Education and Labor Committee, Mrs. Casey Jones described the senseless circumstances which took her husband Clyde’s life, the life of Eric Johnson, 59, and severely burned another worker, Michael Martin, 42:

“The roof, which was to be removed, was directly over tanks holding highly flammable and dangerous gases…  Clyde was not a roofer.  He worked in general maintenance.  He had no knowledge of the dangers associated with these tanks he worked around every day for the last 7 years, because there had never been any safety meetings for him and other workers.  …He was instructed to go with other workers and using lighted torches, they began cutting away the torn metal roof to start the repair process.  My husband was in a crane which was used to lift the metal pieces as they were cut.  As the lighted torch cut through the metal, the gases coming from the vent exploded into a horrible fireball.  The tanks and pipes broke and hot flammable gases were directed into the cab of the crane, where my husband was severely burned.”

“Clyde was burned over 90 percent of his body with 3rd degree burns.  …Clyde suffered through a detriment cleaning process that finally showed the severity of his burns.  …I spent several hours with him to comfort him and promised that I would be strong for him and would be there throughout his recovery.  I received a call the next morning from the doctor informing me that Clyde had no chance of recovery and they were keeping on him on life support until the family could say their goodbyes.”

Several months ago, Confined Space covered this story and provided a link the the Chemical Safety Board’s animation-reenactment of the deadly explosion.  The CSB investigated the workplace disaster and concluded, among other things:

  • The City of Daytona has no program, written or otherwise, to control hot work at city facilities.
  • There was no evidence that workers at the Bethune Point waste water treatment plant received any methanol hazard training in the last 10 years. 
  • The City of Daytona Beach does not require work plan reviews to evaluate the safety of non-routine tasks. 
  • An aluminum flame arrester was installed on the methanol tank but, methanol corrodes aluminum.  And, the flame arrester was not inspected or cleaned since its installation in 1993.

The Chemical Safety Board’s report went on to make recommendations, pointing them squarely at the U.S. Congress, the Governor of Florida, the Florida Legislature and federal OSHA.  It sure seems like it takes a woman (thank you! Carolyn Merritt, chair CSB) to have the BALLS to tell it like it is—no sugar coating the huge gap in safety protections for public employees:

  • No Florida state law or regulations exist to require municipalities to implement safe work practices. 
  • No Florida state laws or regulations exist to require municipalities to communicate chemical hazards to municipal employeees. 
  • Florida municipal employees are not covered by OSHA workplace safety standards. 
  • No state or federal oversight of public employees safety exists in the State of Florida.

 In a written statement submitted for the congressional hearing, Carolyn Merritt seemed to chastise us all for accepting a second-class system for the nation’s public employees:

“It is simply inequitable to afford public employees with lesser workplace protections than workers in private industry. No worker – whether employed by the city, county, state, federal government, or the private sector – should have to suffer injury or death just to earn a living.”

As Casey Jones’ reminded us, government employers often behave just like corporate employers.

“…cities and other smaller governmental agencies will not take action to save lives unless they are told they must do so.  The budget is more important to the city than the people who work for the city.”

She closes with:

“My heart breaks as I speak.  I know that he did not have to die.  My heart breaks for his children.  They will never understand why he died.  My heart breaks for those that have lost family and friends in similar situations, all so needlessly.  All so senseless.  …Only you can help make sure this does not happen to others.”

Her words echo in my mind.  I know I’ve heard them before…sadly, yes.  (TM, PC, M&DK, GC, DH, PC, PD: in solidarity.)

P.S. Thank you Tanya Caldwell, staff writer for the Orlando Sentinel.  Rather than simply relaying the news of these workers’ deaths and injuries at the City of Daytona Beach’s waste water treatment plant, she asked ”why?”  The “why’s” from reporters on workplace safety and health issues are critically important and we need more (and more) of them.  Tanya Caldwell’s story, Widow’s Top Goal: Averting Tragedy appeared on May 24, 2007. 

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