Two recent work-related fatalities remind us to support each other
The week of July 20 was a terrible week for the Oregon Department of Transportation. On July 22, ODOT Transportation Maintenance Specialist Don Kendall was lost in an incident on a chip-seal project near Echo in eastern Oregon. A day later Diversified Concrete Cutting employee Glen McCoy lost his life in an incident on a project to install rumble strips on Interstate 84 near Boardman. In both of these incidents, these workers were struck by construction vehicles.
According to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, an average of 130 workers die each year in road construction activities. Of this total, approximately 62 percent of the fatalities are not directly related to traffic issues. The primary causes of worker fatalities in recent years were:
- Runovers/backovers (often by dump trucks): 48%
- Collisions between vehicles/mobile equipment: 14%
- Caught in between/struck by construction equipment and objects: 14%
Supporting Each Other
Over the last few weeks, the outpouring of compassion and support the construction community, law enforcement, business partners, and others have shown to the employers, coworkers, and families of Don and Glen has been tremendous. We must continue to support each other in the days and weeks to come.
“I would like to thank Oregon State Police for their support,” said ODOT Highway Division Administrator Paul Mather. “Superintendent Evans was in Pendleton when this happened and went out to our shop to support our folks.”
Superintendent Evans talked about how OSP deals with fallen officer incidents and provided advice on how to take care of employees going through this type of trauma. ODOT staff found it very helpful.
ODOT’s Critical Incident Stress Debriefing Team responded immediately to the Kendall incident.
“We are committed to developing more ODOT employees as CISD team members and to partner with other local agencies in an interdisciplinary CISD team,” said ODOT Director Matt Garrett. “It is vital that all of us provide support to our fellow workers when they need it. Special thanks to ODOT employees Todd Mundinger, Dustin Ross and Dan Metz, CISD team members who have been a tremendous support during this time.”
Working with our partners at the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Oregon State Police as well as employer safety teams, we are conducting a thorough analysis to learn what happened in these incidents so that we can take steps to prevent future occurrences.
“We’re going to be looking at a number of things,” Oregon OSHA spokeswoman Melanie Mesaros said on July 25. “Things like supervision and training, what kind of hazards were present on the job site and what kind of safety protocols were in place.”
Changes Already Initiated
ODOT crews reviewed their job hazard assessments and procedures for conducting chip seal projects just days after these incidents. Safety stand downs (safety breaks) took place across the state. Crews reviewed procedures and focused on safety issues. Region 5 crews have already made some changes to their chip seal process, removing the ‘ground personnel’ from the middle of a line of large trucks and providing them a vehicle—further insulating people on the ground from large moving equipment.
“As horrible as this situation is, everyone involved has demonstrated tremendous courage and compassion.” said ODOT Employee Safety Manager David Solomon. “We need to keep reminding each other that although things feel awful now, they will get better. What we learn from these incidents will help prevent future tragedies.”
Safety Stand Down Pays Off
Just days after these two fatalities, a work zone crash occurred on a project on U.S. 20 in eastern Oregon. A truck ran into the back of a line of cars being piloted through the work zone, pushing a car into the flagger area. The project team reported that they had just done a safety stand down with contractor crews the day before and had discussed escape routes and alert protocols. That review helped the flaggers escape with just minor injuries.
Road construction can be a dangerous profession. The deaths of Don Kendall and Glen McCoy are heart-wrenching. It is difficult to understand tragedies like this. With sadness, though, comes the comfort of memories. We can honor Don and Glen’s memories by continuing to support each other, learning from our experiences and working together to eliminate hazards and improve safety for all highway workers.
This is the fifth in a series of articles provided the Oregon Department of Transportation that take a fresh look at work zone safety.