A safer place to work
More than 4,000 killed annually in on-the-job accidents
SCHENECTADY It’s been almost a year since Dan Tobin died of electrocution in a roadwork accident along Route 4 in East Greenbush.
His family scheduled the wake and attended the funeral last year, but Sunday afternoon they gathered again in an attempt to raise awareness for workplace safety.
“We want to make sure no other families have to go through what we did,” said Katie Tobin, one of Dan’s daughters.
Katie sat in the front row of the Capital District Area Labor Federation’s annual workers memorial with her twin sister, Kayla, and with their mother, aunt and grandmother.
The event took place at the Steinmetz Family Investment Center in Schenectady and was meant to honor local workers who died or were injured on the job in the past year, and advocate for workplace safety.
Before speakers took the stage and the battery-powered memorial candles switched on, the Tobin family remembered its absent patriarch.
“He was such a smart ass,” Katie said. “He always had something funny to say. He lit up the room.”
She said he loved his job as a heavy machinery mechanic for DelSignore Blacktop and Paving in Troy. The morning of May 25, Dan was helping out the crew moving portable light towers off the road, making room for the Memorial Day rush. The framework he was moving reportedly fell against a power line.
“We think it was negligence,” Katie said.
Dan Tobin’s sister-in-law, Suzie Wagar, said the accident was out of his control.
“He was a safe guy,” she said. “He loved his motorcycle, but he never drank around it. On the job site he was by the book.”
His story was all too common at the event. Officials from CDALF detailed the circumstances surrounding several of the 28 Capital Region workplace fatalities since last April. A young man, newly married, was crushed by a falling pipe. A beloved farmer was rolled over by his tractor. All are remembered fondly.
More than 4,000 people annually die in workplace accidents nationwide, an average of 13 a day, said Frank Natalie, CDALF executive vice president. In 2011, 206 of those deaths were in the state.
“People are very concerned about public safety — police, fire protection, roads, but you don’t hear much about workforce safety,” he said.
While Natalie couldn’t say if the 28 Capital Region deaths was more than last year, or how the number compared to areas in the rest of the country, he said it was more than necessary.
“Many workplace investigations show injuries would have been prevented by employers following existing regulations,” he said. “In most circumstances, safety enforcement is woefully lacking.”
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration, the agency responsible for job-site regulations, is too weak and needs to see an “uptick” in power, he said.
Falls by construction workers cause the largest number of deaths, but roadwork accidents like Tobin’s electrocution are a close second.
Janet Foley, occupational safety director for the Civil Service Employees Association, told of a road worker hit by a woman driving while high on drugs.
“We’ve all seen distracted drivers,” she said. “I’ve seen people reading books, putting on makeup behind the wheel. We can save lives just by paying attention.”
In the end there were prayers and a moment of silence. Two dozen people held candles and signs inscribed with the names of the dead. Members of Urban Gorilla Theatre, a local spoken-word group, took the stage to recite some closing rhythmic poetry.
“Remember me as I was,” said Christopher Flemming, channeling the voice of a road builder. “With my hands on my tools.”