Buried alive: a terrible way to die

Workers’ Correspondence

Being buried alive is a terrible way to die. If you are working in a trench and it caves in with just your head sticking out it makes great news. The drama of the rescue operation draws the news media like bees to honey. However, if you are buried alive it does not make much news and is listed in the back pages.

The AFL-CIO web site states: “Each year more then 6 million U.S. workers are injured or become sick on the job. 50,000 U.S. workers die from occupational illness and nearly 6,000 are killed on the job.”

That’s why safety was my first concern at my last union job. I was working on Donald Trump’s Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City. It was a good job. Sketching out piping arrangements at foreman’s pay. The construction official in my hometown offered me a plumbing inspector’s job. Figuring it would be a good retirement job, I accepted.

I immediately ran into problems with the anti-union mayor. He ordered me not to wear my union jacket during my inspections. Next, the mayor called me to his office with a complaint “from Washington.” He said they wanted to know what I was trying to do to the largest nonunion contractor in the county. My reply was easy: “Calling for code compliance.”

When I was required to inspect pipe work in a trench, I would red tag the job if the trench did not meet OSHA standards. The problem was that OSHA safety standards were not in the National Standard Plumbing Code. Knowing that nonunion workers would return to the trench when I left the job scene, I called all of the workers out of the trench. Then I gave each of them my card. I instructed them, when they got home that night, to give the card to their wife. Inform her, I told them, that if you get buried alive in that trench, I will testify for her in court.

I thought a code change would help alleviate the problem. So in January 2005, I proposed adding OSHA standards to the rules and regulations on safety. This change would give the plumbing inspector grounds for red tagging improper and unsafe trenching. The change finally came out and reads:

“Trenching and excavations for the installation of underground piping shall be performed in accordance with occupational safety and health requirements.”

Now, I am not a lawyer. Did they water down what I had asked for, to put OSHA standards into the Plumbing Code?