“Complacency Killed My Brother!”

freakA couple of months ago, I wrote a post about how “freak accidents” are neither “freak,” nor “accidental.”   As I explained then:

First, the phrase implies that this type of incident hardly ever happens and there is, therefore, not much you can do about it. In fact, the phrase “freak accident” is a double-whammy. Not only dies the word “freak” imply “rare,” but the word “accident,” defined as “an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury,” implies that the event was unexpected.

One of the examples of an fatality that was labeled a “freak accident” was the tragic death of Marty Dale Whitmire in Greenville, South Carolina, in April 2017.  Whitmire was working on a paving operation when his truck clipped a live power line, which fell on him — a tragic, far-too-common — and completely preventable — cause of worker death.

Yesterday, Marty Whitmire’s nephew, Melvin Whitmire,  posted a comment on that post which I am reprinting below to give it more attention. I defy you to read it without boiling over, and crying at the same time:

Thank you so much for your article about the “freak” “”accident”” in Greenville SC involving the electrocution that occurred on a paving job site.

April 11, 2017 is a day my family and I will NEVER forget. Marty was my like a brother to me. He was actually my Uncle (my fathers baby brother) but because he was only 8 years older than me we were very close when I was a child and as I became an adult we grew to be best friends. He used to tell everyone that he and I were brothers.

Marty worked on my crew as a Pipefitter for 4+\- years and the company we were working for layed him off in November of 2016. That’s when he took the job at King Asphalt to keep busy until the layoff ended. He wasn’t experienced and he was a flag man for the first 4 months he worked there. Towards the end of March 2017 he was “promoted” to the job the position that he was working when he was tragically killed, not accidentally either. This happened in my opinion (I have 22 years in Industrial Pipefitting an OSHA 30, and experience as Site Specific Safety Officer on a Federal Jobsite) due to Marty’s absence of proper training on the machine and lack of training for the foreman in the job. The power lines were  lower than required  by national code, the pole was not up to national codes, the spotter was out that day and no one filled his position and SCDOT inspector  was sitting in his truck onsite because the road being paved was a State Road. The road has more overhead lines crossing the road than the average road in that particular area that the incident occurred, and no one notified the power company about safeguarding the power lines before work began. COMPLACENCY killed my “brother”!!!! This could have been avoided if either the paving or power company or SCDOT would  have fulfilled their obligations to provide a safe place to work.

Another piece of information not reported was…….
The foreman on the paving crew was Marty’s son. My cousin watched his Daddy as he was being electrocuted for 20+\- minutes until the power company arrived to shutdown the 7200 volt line that lay across Marty’s body. The power never tripped a fuse or transformer. It stayed live until the power company got onsite. NOT A ACCIDENT. A FAILURE TO PREVENT this from happening is what is so “FREAKY” and unbelievable.

Moral of the story: Most workplace “accidents” are not accidents; nor are they “freak.”  Most workplace fatalities are preventable. There is plenty of information out there if employers don’t understand how to make their workplaces safe. Melvin is right: it wasn’t an act of God or “just one of those things” that killed his brother; it was the employer’s complacency and violation of safety standards and the law.

Finally, every worker killed in the workplace is a tragedy and a loss that brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, friends, co-workers, spouses, children and parents can never fully recover from.

Freak Accident

3 Comments

  1. That made me cry…absolutely horrifying a son watched his father being electrocuted for over 20 minutes. It is akin to my experience of my son being buried alive in a trench collapse and waiting 11 hours till his body was recovered.
    My heart goes out to this family and the article is spot on Complacency, lack of training, labeling this a freak accident. Ridiculous.
    I forwarded this article to my local county prosecutor. I am convinced now the answer to this complacency is not a slap on the wrist fine from OSHA;it is criminal prosecution for manslaughter
    Thank you for yet another poignant article on the senselessness of workplace deaths.

  2. Most construction site supervisors are responsible to ensure that employees have the proper training/equipment for the position, assign a spotters, traffic control and to identify the hazards on a job? We all can look at the cause of the death in the article and we all tread lightly when supervisors and injured employees are family. I hope in case the prosecutor does not file manslaughter charges against the supervisor, even though this case was preventable at so many levels.

    A similar fatality in our area occurred when an concrete company hired a new employee to be a truck driver, he was assigned a trainer who taught them the ins and outs of the job, had a ride along program with the new employee till he was released to drive and a final “exam.” A year later, the “new driver” gave the ultimate sacrifice of his life when he was pulled into the equipment while cleaning it as he had been taught by the trainer. During the investigation, it was found that the trainer’s truck as well as the one involved in the incident had the safety switches bypassed. The trainer had taught the others as well as the “new driver” how to speed up the cleaning, by bypassing several safety switches. You would say prosecute the employer, the mechanic and the trainer. In this case, the mechanic/trainer was his older brother. The family blamed the employer and the truck manufacturer and chastised the investigators when they even mentioned the trainer being at fault. I pray for all workers who are injured on our nations job sites.

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