Thoughts on Safety from the News


We pause and think about safety periodically. There is a vast assortment of challenges out there in the world that may result in an accident. Workers' compensation is built for such instances and remains focused on safety after about 100 years (in some jurisdictions a bit more, in others a bit less). The thing about workplace accidents is that none should be ignored. We can learn from any event. However, that said, it is tough to get over some of the most tragic.


This month, the news brought us Jermani Thompson. She was just 26 and working in one of those jobs that involve a great deal of paying attention. She was a baggage handler. I had some experience in representing the airline industry and know well how many moving vehicles and things there are in the part of the airport that you don't visit as a traveler. Ms. Thompson "was working to offload an inbound aircraft after it landed when her hair somehow managed to get stuck in the belt loader," according to ABC7


The report says that "The circumstances surrounding the incident are unclear." What is clear is that someone lost a child, a sibling, a niece, something. There will be investigations, questions, and conclusions in days and weeks to come. After someone is killed, there are always questions.


Sometimes such events lead to the imposition of fines. In late August this year, a fine was announced in the case of a "30-year-old Peoria resident" who was in the food service industry. She had a scooter accident and likewise passed away (February 2022). The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigation concluded that the "death was due to safety failures." It "found the company vehicle crashed because a strap had been placed to keep the gate open." the Employer was fined $20,302. This is a reminder that altering the design or plan (having a gate) with some interim solution (strap) may not always be thought through as extensively as the original decision to install such a plan or device. 


These are tragic and somewhat violent ends. But, a South Carolina example in the news last week was troubling in other ways. A 63-year-old woman was working as a janitor in a retail store. She apparently did not come home from work, and her family filed a missing-person report. The police began an investigation and visited the workplace. They discovered her in "a public restroom." She had passed away, and there is an ongoing investigation as to the cause.


For four days, this lady's body was in the public restroom "during a busy shopping weekend," and yet was not discovered. The question being asked is how this was not noticed by any passing customer. There is some curiosity as to how her coworkers did not notice her absence "and go and check to see where she was." And, "with the investigation in its early stages," one person noted, "there are a lot of questions that need to be answered."


These are each very different instances. Each made the news for different reasons. Each is a sad instance of loss of life. And, perhaps, each may illustrate to some degree that there is great value in the attentiveness and attention of our coworkers. There are risks that persist in the workplace. Some may be work-related, and others not so much (one might expire at work purely as happenstance). However, in the workplace, we are all in a community. To the extent that we might, there is a great value in our looking out for each other generally and focusing on workplace safety specifically.


There is value in reminding coworkers to "buckle up" or don their hardhat, hearing protection, gloves, etc. Why are those safety devices needed? The more serious the risk, perhaps the more attentive we should be for ourselves and for others? There is value in questioning why something is. That is, "why is that strap there?" or "is that a danger to someone that might not see it?" There is value in noticing that something is out of place (janitor cart unexpectedly in the bathroom for days) or someone is missing for days. Inattentiveness and lack of engaging our coworkers present the potential for accidents, injuries, and even tragedies. 


Each of these losses has affected someone. The loss to family, loved ones, and friends is pertinent, permanent, expected, and sorrowful. But, the loss to the community, coworkers, and management is often times also very difficult to accept and process. In an effort to avoid having to process it, my suggestion is more persistent and directed focus on safety in the workplace, vigilance for our coworkers, and patience with the processes in place to assure our safety and that of our coworkers. Warn a coworker, remind a coworker, care about a coworker. Be persistently aware of surroundings, risks, and challenges. Follow safety rules and appreciate when a coworker provides a reminder or warning. 



I remind students persistently that they must look out for their own best interests, that they must take responsibility in life for their own safety and well-being. We must each remember that life is fleeting as well as precious. What we do to acknowledge that and protect ourselves and each other says much about who we are. 


By Judge David Langham

Courtesy of Florida Workers' Comp

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    About The Author

    • Judge David Langham

      David Langham is the Deputy Chief Judge of Compensation Claims for the Florida Office of Judges of Compensation Claims at the Division of Administrative Hearings. He has been involved in workers’ compensation for over 25 years as an attorney, an adjudicator, and administrator. He has delivered hundreds of professional lectures, published numerous articles on workers’ compensation in a variety of publications, and is a frequent blogger on Florida Workers’ Compensation Adjudication. David is a founding director of the National Association of Workers’ Compensation Judiciary and the Professional Mediation Institute, and is involved in the Southern Association of Workers’ Compensation Administrators (SAWCA) and the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions (IAIABC). He is a vocal advocate of leveraging technology and modernizing the dispute resolution processes of workers’ compensation.

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