Monday, October 20, 2008

Death at Goodwill

My nephew/son works at a Goodwill store in Oregon City. He's been with Goodwill for about 5 or 6 years. There are a few different things I'm concerned with about his job, but until today, safety wasn't one of them. I just came across this article from the Tacoma Tribune which has caused me to wonder about what sort of safety training the many people with developmental disabilities have received at the stores in Oregon...

Goodwill fined in death of developmentally disabled worker Published: October 17th, 2008 12:30 AM | Updated: October 17th, 2008 06:39 AM

State inspectors found Tacoma Goodwill Industries should have done more to prevent the death of Nick Miller, a developmentally disabled worker crushed by piece of heavy machinery.

On Thursday, the Department of Labor & Industries announced they were fining the nonprofit nearly $50,000 for three safety violations with nine specific deficiencies, the most serious of which contributed to Miller’s death.

The 27-year-old Miller, who had the cognitive ability of a 10-year-old in some areas, died April 15 on the loading dock of Goodwill’s Operation Center on South Cedar Street. He was killed by a machine that lifts trash into a compactor. He was crushed as the tipper came back down at the end of its dumping cycle.

The L&I citation said Goodwill failed to tailor its accident-prevention program to disabled workers and failed to properly supervise and enforce training programs for disabled workers. The agency noted that the company had been cited for similar deficiencies in the past.

Goodwill disputes the findings and will appeal, CEO Terry Hayes said in an interview Thursday.

“Honestly, we were surprised and disappointed,” she said. “In our view, the facts don’t fit the findings.”

Hayes said Goodwill had collaborated with L&I to correct the previous violations.

“Now they’re turning around and fining us for it?” she said.

For example, during previous consultations, the agency didn’t ask for a special section in its accident prevention program related to disabled workers, but now they want one, Hayes said.

Nor did anyone find problems with the trash-tipping machine in which Miller was killed when it was previously inspected, she noted.

L&I spokeswoman Elaine Fischer stood by the agency’s assessment, saying, “We found shortcomings in their safety program, and they’re documented in this citation. Of course, they have a right to appeal.”

David Bufalini, the attorney representing Miller’s family, said he was distressed to see the two most serious violations were repeats.

“You hope that employers take citations seriously when they’re related directly to worker safety,” he said. “These aren’t paperwork violations.”

State law prevents Miller’s family from filing a wrongful death lawsuit because Nick was an adult, and all of his income went toward expenses, leaving his estate with no monetary losses, Bufalini said.

But the family’s main goal has always been preventing anyone else from getting hurt, he said.

“The ultimate reward would be for Goodwill to acknowledged they screwed up, make the changes and pay the fines,” Bufalini said.

While explaining her frustrations with the citations, Hayes stressed Goodwill’s commitment to workplace safety.

In the six months between the accident and L&I’s findings, Goodwill has conducted additional training, reinspected all its machinery, hired an outside safety consultant and fitted three machines, including the one in which Miller died, with lockout devices.

She noted L&I figures show that on the whole, Goodwill has 20 percent fewer accidents than the average workplace in the state. Hayes said in June that the department’s independent review had no major findings. She declined to share the report with The News Tribune then and again Thursday.

Hayes also declined to talk about the circumstances that led to Miller’s accident.

Bufalini says he hopes a more detailed report from L&I’s investigation will shed light on events. “I’m waiting to see the report and I know the Millers are,” the attorney said. “They want the details. What’s lacking to their satisfaction is an actual explanation of what happened.”

Ian Demsky: 253-597-8872

Nine Violations

Here’s a breakdown of the violations the state Department of Labor & Industries found at Tacoma Goodwill Industries in connection with the death of Nick Miller.

Category: Repeat serious

Violation: Written accident-prevention program not tailored to the needs of developmentally disabled employees. It “lacked safe work practices and supervision to prevent injury.”

Fine: $14,300

Violation: Did not supervise, implement and enforce training programs for all workers, including disabled employees.

Fine: $14,300

Category: Serious

Violation: Did not ensure the tipping machine had proper emergency stop controls.

Fine: $7,000

Violation: Tipping machine did not have safeguards to prevent trapping/crushing hazard.

Fine: $7,000

Violation: Tipping machine did not have safeguards to prevent someone from getting caught between it and a guardrail.

Fine: $7,000

Category: General

Violation: No one from the Supported Work Group was on the company’s safety committee.

Fine: Zero

Violation: Safety committee did not cover three important topics.

Fine: Zero

Violation: At least four injuries not logged.

Fine: $100

Violation: Did not ensure all injuries and illnesses properly logged.

Fine: $100

Total fines: $49,800

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