November 23, 2018 Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH 0Comment

Jeff Young with Ohio Valley ReSource and Eleanor Klibanoff with the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting (KyCIR) provide a scathing account of Kentucky’s worker safety agency in a multi-part series, “Fatal Flaws: How Kentucky Is Failing Its Workers.” Their reporting is top-notch.

I wrote yesterday about Klibanoff’s analysis of 47 worker fatalities that were “investigated” by Kentucky OSHA (KY OSH) from October 2015 through September 2017. It’s a stretch to call the agency’s work “investigations.”

In “A Teenager Dies On The Job. His Family’s Work Begins,” Jeff Young shares the story of Grant Oakley, 17, and his parents, Pam and Mike Oakley. Young writes:

“Grant Oakley’s second day of work was the last day of his life.”

He explains that Oakley was hired by a farm supply business that was conveniently located across the highway from his parent’s house. His first full day on the job, Oakley was covering for the other employees when they left work early to vote because it was Election Day. Just before closing time, the 17 year old and a co-worker where using a forklift.  Oakley was grievously injured. He died that evening.

Young writes that Grant Oakleys’ parents had so many questions:

“Why was Grant allowed to ride on the side of the forklift? How fast was it going? Who saw what had happened?

Stunned, bereaved, the Oakleys looked to KY OSH for answers. In Kentucky, KY OSH is the state agency that has primary responsibility for enforcement of work safety regulations, including investigations of workplace accidents, injuries and fatalities.

But the Oakleys found the investigator’s handwritten notes incomplete and hard to read. It appeared the state’s inspector didn’t question witnesses. ‘They closed his case so fast,’ Mike Oakley said. ‘And they said it was not necessary for them to talk to all the witnesses,’ Pam Oakley added. ‘Who doesn’t talk to the witnesses? When somebody dies, who won’t talk to the witnesses?'”

Pam Oakley’s question is a theme that runs through “Fatal Flaws: How Kentucky Is Failing Its Workers.”  The reporters’ analysis found that in nearly every case, KY OSHA’s investigation was grossly inadequate.  They also learned that the state agency’s failures hindered a possible criminal prosecution of the employer. Young writes:

“’Any time someone dies, I want to look into it,’ said Andy Sims, the Commonwealth Attorney for Kentucky’s 13th Judicial Circuit, which includes Garrard County. Sims turned to the KY OSH investigation to learn more about the circumstances of Grant’s death.

But instead of a willingness to help him build a case, Sims said he found an ‘extremely frustrating’ lack of cooperation from the agency officials. And when he finally did get the materials, Sims said, he was disappointed by the lack of substance. ‘There were few photographs of the scene, no recordings, a couple of handwritten notes but the information is out of context,’ Sims said.

Some scribbled notes from interviews, Sims said, were ‘illegible.’ Other notes he could make out, but they lacked any indication of what questions had been asked by inspectors, making it hard to put information in context. Sims decided he would have to do his own investigation with the assistance of a Kentucky State Police trooper. But by then, time was working against them.

‘Once the incident occurs, there is kind of a ticking clock about getting a proper investigation to get criminal charges,’ he said.”

KY OSHA’s “investigation” resulted in a citation against Bluegrass Agricultural Distributors for one serious violation. The company paid a $3,500 penalty.

Pam and Mike Oakley filed a complaint with federal OSHA, which has oversight responsibility of over KY OSHA and the other states that operate their own worker health and safety regulatory agencies. Jeff Young’s piece concludes with that part of the story.

Sadly, the Oakleys learn that the way KY OSHA poorly handled the investigation into their son’s work-related death was repeated dozens and dozens of time by the agency.

The question that’s not answered is this: Are there any lawmakers who care enough to do something about it?


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