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Workplace dangers prevalent


Niki Bauer February 15th, 2012

In March 2011, my 21-year-old daughter, Cheryl Marie Bauer, was involved in a workplace accident that claimed her life. She was a great kid — a hardworking honors student who was generous to a fault.

The high school/college kid with the part-time job is such a time-honored tradition in our country, it hardly occurs to us that danger could be imminent. We as parents just send them off blithely, assuming all will be well. I never thought my daughter’s part-time gig at a neighborhood pizza joint would be her undoing.

The Friday of her accident, the restaurant had just received a beer delivery, and Cheryl was loading cases of beer on something I’ll call a “dumbwaiter/material lift,” basically a cage hanging from a chain operated by an electric overhead hoist. The cage ran up and down between floors on four angled guide rails. Cheryl was on the first floor and in the process of bringing the cases down to the basement.

At some point, the hoist apparently failed catastrophically; the cage came flying down, taking Cheryl with it. She was dragged into the shaft between the cage and the wall, causing devastating internal injuries.

She died on a Monday, after doctors told us that they could do no more for her. Just like that, my beautiful daughter was gone.

In this case, silence proved deadly.

Photos of the accident scene show the lift to be a rusty, rickety, homespun contraption. Out of all the people that encountered this piece of machinery, all it would’ve taken is one person to say, “Hey, this thing looks dangerous, it shouldn’t be used,” or, “It should be checked out before being used.”

That’s all it would’ve taken to save a life. And that’s exactly what I’m doing now, as I slowly emerge from my haze of shock and disbelief. I’m speaking up and breaking the silence and complacency to prevent future situations like this. It’s my duty to my daughter, and society at large.

My message to workers and employers is: Be aware, be careful, be cautious!

Don’t be naïve about workplace danger. I think it never occurred to Cheryl that something like this could happen, and I, as her mom, never warned her.

My next message is: Be vocal, speak up, communicate! Know what to do when you believe you’re being exposed to dangerous conditions at work.

In the end, if you have to quit, so be it. No job is worth losing your life over.

My family and I are still dumbfounded. We have, however, done a few things. We have hired a lawyer, who has hired a mechanical engineer to investigate the accident further. We also have started a small scholarship fund in Cheryl’s name (cherylbauerscholarship. org) and hope to give out our first scholarship next fall. One of the ways we plan on raising funds is by showing Cheryl’s recently restored 1974 Chevy Nova at car shows throughout the state, and talking to people about her.

Finally, we are going to the media with her story in order to raise awareness in young workers about workplace safety, and also to publicize her scholarship fund.

—Niki Bauer
Oklahoma City

Oklahoma Gazette provides an open forum for the discussion of all points of view in its Letters to the Editor section. The Gazette reserves the right to edit letters for length and clarity. Letters can be mailed, faxed, emailed to pbacharach@okgazette.com or sent online at okgazette.com, but include a city of residence and contact number for verification.

 
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02.16.2012 at 07:10 Reply

Sadly the last time I reported what I felt was an unsafe situation (a chemical leak) I was regarded as more of a Chicken Little than anything.  Despite the fact that I'd had a second party answer correctly identify the chemical smell when all I asked was "do you smell something"?  The mechanical sniffers never caught it, but after I registered the complaint higher it got further researched.  

A couple days later I was called into the maintenance office to sign a document confirming what I'd smelled.  At which time I was told they had indeed found a leaking flange.  I'm glad I was right, but I was made to feel like I was causing unnecessary panic, and was never even offered an apology for that ostracism.  I think my boss thinks I was trying to go over his head, when it was nothing more than trying to make sure an unsafe situation got properly investigated.

High concentrations of that chemical will cause chemical burns in a person’s lungs or possibly kill anyone that breathes it.  And depending on which way the wind is blowing, a major leak runs the risk of affecting many others outside the facility.  So while I appreciate their desire to avoid panic, it seems like it might prevent diligent research.  And worst of all, the negativity I felt after reporting this did more to prevent me from wanting to ever say anything in the future.

In a previous job, I reported an unsafe situation which would have left customers with lacerations to management.  When nothing got done, I submitted it to corporate.  About two days later, the problem magically got rectified.  In retaliation I was denied a raise that I had worked quite diligently to get. 

When the whistleblower is the one who pays the price for bringing safety issues to light, there is very little incentive to actually stand up and say anything.

I am very sorry for the loss of your daughter.

 

 

 
 
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