Workplace Death: Freak Accident or Preventable?

Sometimes, when you’re reading about the tragedies in the Weekly Toll, there are a few that you think, “Well, that’s too bad, but what are you going to do….?”

Like this one in this week’s Weekly Toll:

Two Rhode Island residents ID’d in Billerica auction crash

Billerica, MA — Two Rhode Island residents were among the three people killed Wednesday when an elderly employee at a Billerica auto auction plowed an SUV into a crowd of people, injuring nine others, authorities said Brenda Lopez, 48, and Pantaleon Santos, 49, both of Rhode Island, were pronounced dead at Lynnway Auto Auction, said Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan and Billerica Police Chief Daniel Rosa. Leezandra Aponte, 36 — a Lowell mother of three who was only hours into her first day on the job at the auto auction — was rushed to Lahey Hospital, where she later was pronounced dead, authorities said. The president of Lynn­way, Jim Lamb, said in a statement yesterday that safety barriers will be installed to keep vehicles from leaving their designated lanes during auctions.

An elderly employee crashes a car into a crowd of people, killing three, including an employee.  We’ve seen these stories before. Old people and three tons of moving steel don’t always mix. Shake your head, say a prayer and move on. Right?

Not so fast.  It turns out that not only is the Lynnway Auto Auction going to now take some precautions — setting up safety barriers to protect crowds — but they had been warned before. And had ignored the warnings.

Boston 25 News has learned a former driver asked about safety changes years before the accident.
That driver worked at the auction for three years in a part time job, driving cars through the auction lanes.

The woman, who asked to be identified only as Anne, spent three years driving cars through the crowds inside the Lynnway auto auction. She said her safety concerns were ignored.

“It’s just a matter of time before something like this would happen,” Anne said.

“I wasn’t surprised because I was like, ‘one of these days, someone is going to get killed,” she said.

And MASSCOSH, the COSH Group in Massachusetts is on the case, noting that that worker killed — and Ann, who warned of the hazard — are temporary workers:

MassCOSH, a non-profit that monitors worker safety, is calling for more precautions at Lynnway; particularly for temporary workers like Anne, or Leezandra Aponte — one of the victims of last weeks’ crash.

“Temp workers are seen sadly as disposable, they’re treated like second class employees,” MassCOSH’s Jeff Newton told Boston 25. “We will be following the OSHA investigation to see if the company took any shortcuts that put anyone in needless danger.”

Lynnway plan to install bollards “as soon as possible, and Jersey barriers in the meantime.

And in the “no good deed goes unpunished” department, Lynnway also commented that

[Anne] was not a Lynnway employee, she worked for Labor Ready. [Anne] had an uncooperative attitude and Labor Ready was asked not to send her any more. During the time she worked as an auction day driver, she was required to attend the safety meeting and handed a copy of the safety instructions every single time she came on Wednesdays to work as a driver.

OK. Uncooperative attitude, but somehow worked there for three years…..

Lessons

The lessons here are that there are that even if it’s not initially evident, there are almost always ways that injuries and fatalities could have been prevented . There is almost no such thing as a “freak accident”  that someone couldn’t have done something to prevent.

The second lesson is that despite the fact that Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for exercising their health and safety rights, it happens anyway. And your rights are even harder to defend if you work for a temporary agency that decides they don’t want you back because of your “uncooperative attitude.”

UPDATE: In April 2018, OSHA cited Lynnway Auto Auction and the staffing firm TrueBlue Inc., doing business as PeopleReady. TrueBlue was fined $12,675 and Lynnway agreed to pay OSHA $200,000 after the original $267,081 fine was reduced.

COSH Groups Freak Accident Weekly Toll

4 Comments

  1. Elderly driver crashes into crowd. That doesn’t give nearly as much information as it seems at first read. How old is the driver? Does he have a drivers license? What links his age to the accident? Maybe nothing, absolutely nothing. But reporting “elderly driver crashes into crowd” stops further questions. Readers think that the accident was due to driver failure caused by old age. What about the age? Slow reflexes, vision problems, cognitive deficit?
    We all need to be critical when some event is explained by someone’s being “elderly,” whatever the hell that means.

  2. Jordan: Your Confined Space posts are informative and inspirational to me. They are an invaluable daily reminder that everyone, myself included, can do a better job improving workplace safety and health, not just for workers, but for the public too–they are often also in harms way, as your Auto Auction Fatality coverage (May 10th) today so dramatically shows.
    Thank you, Earl

    1. @Rosalene – it’s a highly probability; trust me…if anybody knows, it’s me because I’d conducte on-site visit(s) per my role. For this exact company (TrueBlue), at the location, & conducted routine audits as a part of what it is my position involved. It was documented, submitted and promptly ignored not by staff at the local NH office, as upper management along with its Labor Ready branch from MA, and finally the customer (Lynnway) who are truly responsible for what happened that day

      How do I know? There’s a recruiter working for PeopleReady location in New Hampshire who is responsible for falsifying paperwork, and ultimately for any/all of my termination upon reporting the violations I had proof of, and hypothetically might still be in existence.

      This individual with the assistance of upper management went on ahead by choosing to provide OSHA the information per request, and provide instructions to internal staff (i. .e. minimal documentation, only as required)
      Nothing can or should be discussed by staff unless receiving management approval, and I am willing to bet (no wait, guarantee) that OSHA hasn’t received the full documentation of training, hiring/employment information (i.e. site evaluations, safety training) as I’m quite certain I’ve seen additional information (or significant lack there of) which offered a comprehensive summary in my experience as a former employee (whose involvement is key as it pertains to this (related, or similar) type of matter specifically with any incidents

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