Posted with permission from Confined Space, a newsletter of workplace safety and labor issues.

Sometimes, when you’re reading about the tragedies in the Weekly Toll, there are a few that you think, “Well, that’s too bad, but what are you going to do….?”

Like this one in this week’s Weekly Toll:

Two Rhode Island residents ID’d in Billerica auction crash
Billerica, MA — Two Rhode Island residents were among the three people killed Wednesday when an elderly employee at a Billerica auto auction plowed an SUV into a crowd of people, injuring nine others, authorities said Brenda Lopez, 48, and Pantaleon Santos, 49, both of Rhode Island, were pronounced dead at Lynnway Auto Auction, said Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan and Billerica Police Chief Daniel Rosa. Leezandra Aponte, 36 — a Lowell mother of three who was only hours into her first day on the job at the auto auction — was rushed to Lahey Hospital, where she later was pronounced dead, authorities said. The president of Lynn­way, Jim Lamb, said in a statement yesterday that safety barriers will be installed to keep vehicles from leaving their designated lanes during auctions.

An elderly employee crashes a car into a crowd of people, killing three, including an employee.  We’ve seen these stories before. Old people and three tons of moving steel don’t always mix. Shake your head, say a prayer and move on. Right?

Not so fast.  It turns out that not only is the Lynnway Auto Auction going to now take some precautions — setting up safety barriers to protect crowds — but they had been warned before. And had ignored the warnings.

Boston 25 News has learned a former driver asked about safety changes years before the accident.
That driver worked at the auction for three years in a part time job, driving cars through the auction lanes.
The woman, who asked to be identified only as Anne, spent three years driving cars through the crowds inside the Lynnway auto auction. She said her safety concerns were ignored.
“It’s just a matter of time before something like this would happen,” Anne said.
“I wasn’t surprised because I was like, ‘one of these days, someone is going to get killed,” she said.

And MASSCOSH, the COSH Group in Massachusetts is on the case, noting that that worker killed — and Ann, who warned of the hazard — are temporary workers:

MassCOSH, a non-profit that monitors worker safety, is calling for more precautions at Lynnway; particularly for temporary workers like Anne, or Leezandra Aponte — one of the victims of last weeks’ crash.
“Temp workers are seen sadly as disposable, they’re treated like second class employees,” MassCOSH’s Jeff Newton told Boston 25. “We will be following the OSHA investigation to see if the company took any shortcuts that put anyone in needless danger.”

Lynnway plan to install bollards “as soon as possible, and Jersey barriers in the meantime.

And in the “no good deed goes unpunished” department, Lynnway also commented that

[Anne] was not a Lynnway employee, she worked for Labor Ready. [Anne] had an uncooperative attitude and Labor Ready was asked not to send her any more. During the time she worked as an auction day driver, she was required to attend the safety meeting and handed a copy of the safety instructions every single time she came on Wednesdays to work as a driver.

OK. Uncooperative attitude, but somehow worked there for three years…..


The lessons here are that there are that even if it’s not initially evident, there are almost always ways that injuries and fatalities could have been prevented . There is almost no such thing as a “freak accident”  that someone couldn’t have done something to prevent.

The second lesson is that despite the fact that Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for exercising their health and safety rights, it happens anyway. And your rights are even harder to defend if you work for a temporary agency that decides they don’t want you back because of your “uncooperative attitude.”

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