Former Workers Say Ky. State Fair’s Ride Provider Lacks Safety Training Monday, Aug 19 2019 

Amina Elahi

The 2019 Kentucky State Fair

The Fireball ride had been running for just over an hour at the 2018 Kentucky State Fair when something went wrong, and ride operator Duanne Haywood and a few other workers went underneath.

Within minutes, Haywood was pinned, his body bent in half under the weight of the ride.

Haywood was tasked with setting up and running the controversial ride by his employer, North American Midway Entertainment (NAME), last summer at the Kentucky State Fairgrounds.

“I was excited because I mean, that’s the ride that I learned on,” Haywood said. “It’s a ride that I enjoy setting up and a ride that I enjoy running.”

But soon he would be fighting to catch his breath as several of the Fireball’s other ride operators were scrambling to shut it down again and lift up one of the ride’s heaviest platforms to save Haywood’s life.

The NAME subsidiary that runs Kentucky’s fair, All-Star Amusement, was initially fined $7,000 by Kentucky’s Occupational Safety and Health inspectors for three serious violations after Haywood’s injury. Worker safety inspectors found employees were given deficient training and had deficient procedures for its machines, state records show.

KY OSH also found that NAME All-Star Amusement had not inspected its Fireball ride since 2015 not even after a fairgoer died in Ohio after a Fireball gondola run by a different ride company detached.

Haywood’s injury at last summer’s state fair was one of 19 the company reported last year, and one of 70 since 2014, according to the company’s injury logs provided by Kentucky Occupational Safety and Health. Records don’t show how many of those injuries occurred in Kentucky, and the subsidiary runs fairs in at least seven states.

But overall, the injuries caused 150 days of total missed work for the amusement company’s employees since 2014.

Ian Cox, a spokesperson from the Kentucky Exposition Center, said the Fair Board has been in a working relationship with NAME for 13 years but was not aware of NAME All-Star Amusement’s worker injury record.

“When we have one reported incident made to the fair board, it’s of concern and of interest in understanding what happened,” Cox said.

Lynda Franc, NAME’s corporate marketing director, touted the company’s safety measures in an emailed statement.

“NAME has always invested in being industry leaders with our safety checks, regulations and training,” Franc said. “Additionally, we are very proud to say that our safety procedures and protocols are the most comprehensive in the industry.”

But three former NAME All-Star Amusement employees told KyCIR they never received formal training.

“Training? What’s that?” Haywood said with a chuckle.

Seventy Worker Injuries In Five Years

Companies like NAME All-Star Amusement are required to maintain logs of their recordable incidents, which range from minor episodes like slipping and falling on stairs to more severe accidents like having a limb severed.

OSHA is only required to investigate claims that result in hospitalization, amputation or death.

Ken Martin, a safety analyst and consultant for the amusement ride industry, says the number of injuries by the company running Kentucky’s state fair is hard to put into context because severity matters, and the logs don’t always explain how serious an injury was.

But 70 injuries in five years suggests a trend, he said.

“You have to understand, there’s no way to keep track of their safety record,” Martin said. “There’s no system in place that requires [NAME] to report under the penalty or the authority of law. I mean, when somebody gets hurt, the only reason they talk about it is because somebody found out about it.”

Haywood’s injury made the news within a few days: reports said the Fireball was immediately removed from fairgrounds property after Haywood was taken to the hospital. A NAME spokesperson told one local TV station that Haywood was hurt during set up of the ride.

The Fireball had opened at noon on the third day of the state fair. Kentucky Department of Agriculture records show it was inspected two days before.

The ride inspectors are focused on patron safety, and those records show that inspectors were not satisfied with what they saw at the time of the inspection.

The Fireball was given three “remarks” in the “structural integrity” portion of the inspection. The inspector offered five notes on necessary fixes: properly pin/key all support beams, properly pin and secure hydraulic cylinders, properly repair cracks in tubing above hydraulic cylinder, properly repair corroded decking and properly pin and secure deck hardware.

Haywood remembers the difficulty they had setting up the ride. He took a video on his cellphone showing rusty water pouring out of one part of the ride.

“Geez, there was so much wrong on that ride,” Haywood said.

But the inspection record shows the ride was passed. Kentucky Department of Agriculture spokesperson Sean Southard said that does not mean the ride could have opened unless the issues were fixed.

“KDA inspectors pass rides when and only when those comments have been addressed,” Southard said. “Upon those remarks being addressed, KDA checks the pass box afterwards and then places a KDA inspection sticker on the ride.”

Inspectors verified that the remarks had been addressed before the ride opened on Aug. 18, Southard said.

The passed inspection is dated Aug. 16; the next inspection came with the “stop order” the Department of Agriculture issued after Haywood was hurt.

Within an hour and a half of opening the ride, problems had emerged. One of the ride’s movable platforms was not raising all the way up, and hydraulic fluid was leaking from underneath the platform. Patrons were walked off the ride while workers looked into it, state records show.

Haywood and his coworkers went under the ride, he said, and it was determined the leak was caused by a faulty O-ring.

Haywood said he asked his coworkers to bring braces to hold the platform up. But the maintenance worker began replacing the O-ring immediately.

“Before [my co-workers] could put the braces in, [the maintenance employee] just pulled the valve out,” Haywood said. “And that’s when it came down on me.”

Haywood said pulling the valve out caused the ride to lose pressure and fall. When the Kentucky Occupational Safety and Health inspectors investigated later, that agency’s report deemed the reason for the platform’s drop “currently unknown.”

Haywood was pinned underneath the ride sitting up.The force of the ride began to push his head toward his feet.

Haywood said it felt like “forever,” and he was quickly losing his breath.

“If it wasn’t for those three guys that were working with me, I would not have been here today,” he said.

Only Haywood was trapped, and the others were able to lift the heavy platform up just enough to place blocks underneath. Haywood fell over and laid down on one side before he was transported to the University of Louisville Hospital.

Haywood suffered three broken vertebrae in his back and spent six days in the hospital.

Submitted

Duanne Haywood ziplining, before he says the accident at the fair prevented him from doing these types of activities.

A year removed from the incident, he still suffers from extreme back pain, can’t stand or walk around for very long and has been told he won’t be able to lift more than 20 pounds for the rest of his life.

Back in South Africa, where he’s from, Haywood can no longer fill his free time with fishing, off-road motorbiking and bungee jumping like he used to.

“My life has come to a complete halt,” he said.

The Fireball ride is not operating at this year’s fair. A company spokesperson said all their Fireballs have been sold.

Training Lacking, Former Workers Say

Two of the violations KY OSH issued to NAME were for deficient training in how to lock out the hydraulic energy sources on the Fireball ride, and for having deficient machine-specific procedures for not using blocks or jacks to block energy sources during maintenance of the ride.

Haywood and other former NAME employees said none of those violations come as a surprise to them.

Among the other 2018 injuries the company logged during its tour through the United States:

  • Three times, NAME employees were injured by the Tilt-A-Whirl.
  • In May 2018, an employee injured his back when the ride sign for the Starship fell on him while the ride was being disassembled.
  • In July 2018, employee was struck in the head by the 1001 Nights ride “while he was cleaning himself off from customer’s vomit.”

Former employees told KyCIR they felt the work environment was unsafe.

According to three former employees, training at NAME consists of learning from the ride operators who have worked on specific rides for a year or two.

“After you’ve been on a ride for a day or two and they see nobody’s gotten hurt or whatever,” Haywood says, “one of the bosses pitches up with a piece of paper and you just sign it. Then according to them, you’ve had official training.”

Ben Pieterse, a former NAME All-Star Amusement ride operator who worked with Haywood, agreed. He said he signed papers for a company inspector affirming he learned “what to do and what not to do” from coworkers.

“What they tell you to do is the training you get,” Pieterse said.

Pieterse said he hurt his back a few times lifting heavy parts of the Mega Drop ride. At 25, he said he needs a back brace every day as a result.

Martin Fourie said he started working for NAME All-Star Amusement in 2014, and his bosses really “took care” of him. But he also said no manager spent time officially teaching him how to operate the rides.

So he and his co-workers did things in the safest way they could have.

“There were some times when you had to do things that weren’t very safe,” Fourie said.

Early this year, NAME hired a new national safety director and he is very familiar with the company, as he was Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s chief ride inspector for 16 years.

Chad Halsey left the state before Haywood’s injury and did not oversee inspections at the fair last summer. He began working for NAME in January.

Halsey says he “would never have come on board” if he knew NAME had a bad safety reputation. The company is safe and always has been, he told KyCIR.

But Halsey also acknowledged the training wasn’t where it needed to be. He said he was hired in part to reduce injuries and the insurance claims that follow, and to “do all their training and get everything back where it needs to be.”

The previous safety director was “not a people person,” Halsey said.

“But they are big on safety,” Halsey said of NAME.

Halsey said he’s spent about $5,000 on new climbing harnesses this year “to get them up to speed” as well as providing employees with new gloves and safety glasses.

But he says the problem still rests with whether employees use them.

“We can’t be out there 24/7,” Halsey said. “I can make sure that they’ve got all the safety equipment they need everything from eye protection down but they gotta have some responsibility into wearing it.”

Halsey said he’s done several trainings for All-Star Amusement specifically this year, but employee training is the responsibility of each NAME affiliate’s general manager.
Rich Wyatt, NAME All-Star Amusement’s general manager, declined to comment.

Halsey said that he’s done hydraulic training with employees, the training that was lacking in Haywood’s injury, and he agreed that NAME had deficient procedures and trainings in locking out a safety procedure that ensures machinery doesn’t run and endanger workers during repairs. But he said the accident wasn’t necessarily NAME’s fault.

“I wouldn’t say we were in violation,” Halsey said.

The Kentucky State Fair’s current contract with NAME All-Star Amusement began in 2015. It ends in October, and a NAME spokesperson said the company expects to renew the contract.

Meanwhile, Haywood is home in South Africa waiting for the final resolution to his injury. He filed a worker’s compensation claim, and is waiting for his settlement from Kentucky to arrive.

The post Former Workers Say Ky. State Fair’s Ride Provider Lacks Safety Training appeared first on Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

New Federal Audit Optimistic About Changes At Kentucky OSHA Thursday, Jul 18 2019 

Kentucky’s worker safety agency is on the right track, according to its latest federal audit, but it needs to continue to improve how it investigates deaths on the job in the wake of significant lapses. 

The audit comes a year after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration found more shortcomings in Kentucky’s agency than any of the other 27 state-run worker safety programs. Kentucky’s Occupational Safety and Health program has seen significant leadership turnover, policy changes and media scrutiny since it received the critical report last summer. 

The new audit was released this month and covered the agency’s work in fiscal year 2018. It determined that Kentucky has either resolved or made progress toward addressing all of the findings from the previous year, and no new serious issues were identified. 

“We had a whole bunch of things to fix in a very short period of time,” said Dwayne Depp, Kentucky’s commissioner for workplace standards. “We are a year into it…and I think we’ve done a really good job of turning this big ship around.”

[Graphic: OSHA findings, then and now]

The agency received high marks on the audit for catching up on required trainings, beginning to accept electronic and non-employee complaints, and improving its documentation in some cases. But the agency is still under scrutiny for its handling of worker fatalities, a problem first revealed in an investigative series by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, the Ohio Valley ReSource and the Center for Public Integrity

Kentucky failed to properly investigate deaths on the job for at least two years, often not interviewing eyewitnesses, not identifying the cause of the accident and, in some cases, improperly blaming the worker for their own death. 

Conducting thorough fatality investigations remains a work in progress, according to this year’s audit.

That’s a concern for David Michaels, a professor at the George Washington University School of Public Health and a former Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health. Michaels reviewed the new audit at KyCIR’s request.

“While the Kentucky plan is making progress, it still has some distance to go before it is up to the level it should be,” Michaels wrote in an email. 

Unlike last year, when the federal review team examined two years worth of fatality investigations, this year’s follow-up report looked at a random sampling of fatality, safety and health inspections, and cases where no inspection took place. The audit offered no specific criticisms of these files and focused mostly on the agency’s plans to improve going forward. 

Depp’s proposed changes address many of federal OSHA’s concerns, but they were not implemented in time to be judged during this audit period, which ran from October 2017 to September 2018.

(Read: “Ky. Worker Safety Leaders Promise Grieving Families They’ll Do Better“)

Shortly after Depp took over last July, he directed the inspectors to interview all eyewitnesses and document those interviews, either by recording or writing detailed narratives. But the agency didn’t buy digital recorders until November. It was still distributing them when the federal review team was on site in January. Kentucky’s inspectors received training in investigations and interviewing in January. 

Similarly, in August 2018, all inspectors were directed to explicitly state the cause of accidents in case reports. In October, a review process was implemented to ensure that was happening. When inspectors were on site in January, a checklist was still being developed. 

Depp told KyCIR he didn’t think the changes rolled out slowly, and that doing things right takes longer than people might like. 

In the state’s written response, Depp said he is confident that, by next year, “OSHA will close out the remaining findings and observations to the standard expected by Congress, the Kentucky General Assembly, and the citizens of the Commonwealth.” 

Though the audit contained no new serious issues, it did cite two areas that Kentucky should work on before they get worse. 

For one, Kentucky did not do as many health or safety inspections as it told federal OSHA it would; and the inspections that it did do found no violations more often than is typical, meaning inspectors were either not identifying hazards or not inspecting high-priority workplaces. 

The audit also flagged that Kentucky is more than two years overdue to meet a requirement that it increase its maximum penalty for worker safety violations. The current maximum penalty in Kentucky is $7,000 for a serious violation, compared to $13,260 federally. 

If the legislature doesn’t vote to increase Kentucky’s penalties before the next audit, the state plan will not meet the basic requirement of being “at least as effective” as federal standards. 

Depp said raising the penalties was a topic of discussion, but the cabinet’s legal team would decide the legislative priorities. 

Contact Eleanor Klibanoff at eklibanoff@kycir.org or (502) 814.6544.

New Federal Audit Optimistic About Changes At Kentucky OSHA Thursday, Jul 18 2019 

Kentucky’s worker safety agency is on the right track, according to its latest federal audit, but it needs to continue to improve how it investigates deaths on the job in the wake of significant lapses. 

The audit comes a year after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration found more shortcomings in Kentucky’s agency than any of the other 27 state-run worker safety programs. Kentucky’s Occupational Safety and Health program has seen significant leadership turnover, policy changes and media scrutiny since it received the critical report last summer. 

The new audit was released this month and covered the agency’s work in fiscal year 2018. It determined that Kentucky has either resolved or made progress toward addressing all of the findings from the previous year, and no new serious issues were identified. 

“We had a whole bunch of things to fix in a very short period of time,” said Dwayne Depp, Kentucky’s commissioner for workplace standards. “We are a year into it…and I think we’ve done a really good job of turning this big ship around.”

[Story continues below graphic]


Graphic by Alexandra Kanik

The agency received high marks on the audit for catching up on required trainings, beginning to accept electronic and non-employee complaints, and improving its documentation in some cases. But the agency is still under scrutiny for its handling of worker fatalities, a problem first revealed in an investigative series by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, the Ohio Valley ReSource and the Center for Public Integrity

Kentucky failed to properly investigate deaths on the job for at least two years, often not interviewing eyewitnesses, not identifying the cause of the accident and, in some cases, improperly blaming the worker for their own death. 

Conducting thorough fatality investigations remains a work in progress, according to this year’s audit.

That’s a concern for David Michaels, a professor at the George Washington University School of Public Health and a former Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health. Michaels reviewed the new audit at KyCIR’s request.

“While the Kentucky plan is making progress, it still has some distance to go before it is up to the level it should be,” Michaels wrote in an email. 

Unlike last year, when the federal review team examined two years worth of fatality investigations, this year’s follow-up report looked at a random sampling of fatality, safety and health inspections, and cases where no inspection took place. The audit offered no specific criticisms of these files and focused mostly on the agency’s plans to improve going forward. 

Depp’s proposed changes address many of federal OSHA’s concerns, but they were not implemented in time to be judged during this audit period, which ran from October 2017 to September 2018.

(Read: “Ky. Worker Safety Leaders Promise Grieving Families They’ll Do Better“)

Shortly after Depp took over last July, he directed the inspectors to interview all eyewitnesses and document those interviews, either by recording or writing detailed narratives. But the agency didn’t buy digital recorders until November. It was still distributing them when the federal review team was on site in January. Kentucky’s inspectors received training in investigations and interviewing in January. 

Similarly, in August 2018, all inspectors were directed to explicitly state the cause of accidents in case reports. In October, a review process was implemented to ensure that was happening. When inspectors were on site in January, a checklist was still being developed. 

Depp told KyCIR he didn’t think the changes rolled out slowly, and that doing things right takes longer than people might like. 

In the state’s written response, Depp said he is confident that, by next year, “OSHA will close out the remaining findings and observations to the standard expected by Congress, the Kentucky General Assembly, and the citizens of the Commonwealth.” 

[Story continues below graphic]


Though the audit contained no new serious issues, it did cite two areas that Kentucky should work on before they get worse. 

For one, Kentucky did not do as many health or safety inspections as it told federal OSHA it would; and the inspections that it did do found no violations more often than is typical, meaning inspectors were either not identifying hazards or not inspecting high-priority workplaces. 

The audit also flagged that Kentucky is more than two years overdue to meet a requirement that it increase its maximum penalty for worker safety violations. The current maximum penalty in Kentucky is $7,000 for a serious violation, compared to $13,260 federally. 

If the legislature doesn’t vote to increase Kentucky’s penalties before the next audit, the state plan will not meet the basic requirement of being “at least as effective” as federal standards. 

Depp said raising the penalties was a topic of discussion, but the cabinet’s legal team would decide the legislative priorities. 

Contact Eleanor Klibanoff at eklibanoff@kycir.org or (502) 814.6544.

The post New Federal Audit Optimistic About Changes At Kentucky OSHA appeared first on Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

Ky. Worker Safety Leaders Promise Grieving Families They’ll Do Better Thursday, May 16 2019 

 

Mike and Pam Oakley have been telling this story for years: how their 17-year-old son died on his second day of work, and how the state worker safety agency failed to hold his employer accountable.

They’ve told their story to anyone who would listen. The state never did.

But now, after the state worker safety agency’s failings have been exposed by the federal government and an investigation by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, state officials are finally paying attention to people like the Oakleys.

In recent weeks, the Labor Cabinet has announced major reforms for the agency, specifically around how it investigates fatalities.

And now, three top cabinet officials have driven to this small town, an hour south of Frankfort, on a Sunday, to share those plans with the Oakleys directly.

They’ve arrived as the Oakleys are setting up for their annual Workers Memorial Day event in Garrard County, laying out photos of their son, Grant, around the lobby of the Grand Theater.

Dwayne Depp, commissioner for Kentucky’s Department of Workplace Standards, shook Mike and Pam’s hands, and offered his sympathies. He asked what he could do to help.

“Y’all have no idea what this means to see you three standing here,” said Mike, choking back tears. “You have no idea.”

In Wake Of Loss, Family Pushes For Change

While Mike was eager to pin down some promises from the officials, Pam just wanted to tell them about the real person behind the mishandled fatality investigation. She wore a black t-shirt that read “Honoring GTO,” for Grant Thomas Oakley, her only child.

She pointed to a photo of Grant, an apple-cheeked 17-year-old, his arms crossed in a blue plaid shirt with the sleeves cut off. A ruffle of blonde hair sticks out from his camo baseball cap.

“He played the tuba in the band,” she told Depp, pointing out his marching band state championship medals. “He got first place in his junior year.”

She talked about how he was young, but he wanted to work.

“That’s just who he was,” she told Depp in a near whisper, her voice cracking. “That’s just who he was.”

Nicholas Volosky

Grant Oakley’s parents set up some mementos from his life and death at their annual Workers Memorial Day event in Garrard County, Kentucky.

Grant got his first part-time job at Bluegrass Agricultural Distributors, right across the street from his house. His second day of work happened to be Election Day, 2015, and he agreed to cover a shift so other employees could go to the polls. Grant wasn’t yet old enough to vote.

At work that day, he was riding on the side of a forklift. When he hopped off, his pants or shoes got caught and he ended up under the machine. He died at the hospital.

The Oakleys had a lot of questions. But when they got a copy of the state’s investigation, they found that investigators interviewed few of the eyewitnesses. The handwritten notes were illegible and disjointed.

Kentucky’s Occupational Safety and Health agency fined Bluegrass Agricultural Distributors $3,500 for not having a forklift training program. For the company, and the state, the case was closed.

For the loved ones Grant left behind, though, it was just the beginning. At Grant’s school, all the students honored him by dressing in flannel and camouflage. Mike started teaching OSHA safety classes. And he and Pam began pushing for more answers.

They asked federal OSHA to review the state’s handling of Grant’s death. The feds agreed that the investigation was so insufficient that they couldn’t even determine whether the violation the state issued was, in fact, correct. Federal OSHA proposed no consequences.

The Oakleys’ complaint to federal OSHA was one of several that prompted a special investigation into Kentucky’s worker safety program. A federal audit, released last summer, found that the state failed to properly investigate nearly every workplace fatality during fiscal years 2016 and 2017, including Grant’s.

That audit was first publicized as part of “Fatal Flaws,” an investigation by KyCIR, the Ohio Valley ReSource and the Center for Public Integrity. In that investigation, the Oakleys shared the story of Grant’s life, and his death, and how they’ve found themselves fighting for answers for all of Kentucky’s workers.

The Oakleys are relieved that changes are finally, slowly, beginning to emerge. They’re eager to be part of the reforms. But they’ve also learned to be suspicious of government promises.

“We’ve heard a lot of talk,” said Pam, trailing off.

Mike finished her thought.

“We’re going to be waiting to see what’s actually done.”

At Memorial Event, Signs Of Change

The Oakleys’ annual event is one of many Workers Memorial Day events held around the country on April 28th, the day the Occupational Safety and Health Act went into effect in 1971. But this event is no celebration of OSHA.

As the Oakleys have dedicated their lives to getting better treatment for victims of workplace accidents, they’ve connected with numerous other grieving families along the way.

Many of these families gather at the Oakleys’ annual Workers Memorial Day events, some driving hours across the state to Garrard County. It has become, over the past few years, a rallying point in the fight for acknowledgement from Kentucky’s state-run OSHA agency.

Last year, Ervin Dimeny, then the commissioner for the Department of Workplace Standards, arrived late and sat in the back as speaker after speaker eviscerated his agency.

After the event, Dimeny spoke to a reporter. All fatalities are tragic, he said, but there was nothing his agency could do to bring people back. He defended the worker safety agency, saying there are “states that are doing better and states that are doing worse” than Kentucky.

But Kentucky’s most recent federal audit, which covered Dimeny’s tenure, had more failings than any of the other 27 states that operate their own worker safety agencies.

According to the audit, state investigators routinely failed to interview eyewitnesses, identify the cause of incidents or flag all possible safety violations. In some cases, the state improperly blamed the employee for his or her own death.

These shoddy investigations, the federal audit concluded, left workers “continuously exposed to serious hazards that remain unabated.” And they left families more confused in the wake of a workplace tragedy.

Former Labor Secretary Derrick Ramsey moved to the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet last summer. He took Dimeny and much of the cabinet’s senior leadership with him.

That’s when Depp was brought in. He said he was hired specifically to reform the agency in the wake of the audit.

Since KyCIR’s investigation was released in November, the Labor Cabinet has announced an internal review of the state’s worker safety program. Labor officials have increased salaries in an effort to retain inspectors, and issued press releases about the required trainings their employees are now attending.

While Dimeny downplayed problems, Depp admitted in a recent interview that the state had, at times, failed to properly investigate fatalities and said he was trying to build a “culture of accountability” that had not always existed at the agency.

Dwayne Depp, Commissioner of the Department of Workplace Standards, speaks with KyCIR on Monday April 15th. (Tyler Franklin/WFPL)

“I don’t want another family to experience some of the things that some of those families … have experienced when all they want is answers,” Depp said. “I feel like our job is to be able to give them those answers.”

In that interview, he said he had not met with any of the families who had their cases mishandled. A few weeks later, he showed up at the Workers Memorial Day in Garrard County.

Depp came with David Dickerson, the top official at the Labor Cabinet appointed by Gov. Matt Bevin, and Chuck Stribling, the state employee responsible for making sure Kentucky’s worker safety agency is meeting federal standards.

Only Stribling was with the agency when Oakley died, or during the time period covered by federal OSHA’s scathing assessment.

But, now, after years of closed doors and evasive non-answers from state officials, the Oakleys were finally hearing directly from three top Labor Cabinet officials.

“We are a work in progress,” Depp said. “We’re changing a lot of things that we’ve been doing, really focusing on making sure that when we get done, we’ll be able to answer all the questions that the family has at the end of our investigation.”

In the long run, the Oakleys want more than just a drop-by visit. Even if they can’t get Grant’s case reopened the company he worked for has since closed, and the eyewitnesses are long gone they want a guarantee that this will never happen to another family. They want to be part of the change the agency is promising, starting by meeting with the inspectors to educate them on how to deal with grieving families.

Nicholas Volosky

Pam and Mike Oakley speak with Dwayne Depp (left), commissioner for workplace standards at the Kentucky Labor Cabinet during a Workers Memorial Day event in Garrard County, Kentucky.

Depp offered to come back, with Dickerson, for a follow-up meeting. He gave Mike Oakley his card with his personal cell phone number, and told him to call anytime.

“We’re happy to have your input,” Dickerson said. “Please don’t be bashful.”

Mike Oakley, towering over the state officials in head-to-toe denim with his big, gray beard, burst into laughter. Pam joined in.

“You get to know me, you’ll see that I’m not,” Mike responded. “I wasn’t given that gift.”

Later, Dickerson told KyCIR that Depp’s reforms have his full support, as well as the governor’s.

“I will tell you today, this iteration of the Labor Cabinet cares about doing thorough, competent, complete investigations to give families some sense of closure in the event of an unfortunate occurrence,” Dickerson said.

‘They deserve so much more’

The state officials took their seats in the Grand Theater, the only suits in a crowd of work shirts and motorcycle vests.

All around them were the friends and families — the living victims — of those who died on the job, only to have the state fall short in investigating the circumstances.

Eleanor Klibanoff

Dwayne Depp (left), commissioner for workplace standards at the Kentucky Labor Cabinet, sits next to Labor Secretary David Dickerson and worker safety official Chuck Stribling during a Workers Memorial Day event in Garrard County, Kentucky.

Some of Mike’s students were there too. After Grant’s death, Mike got certified to teach OSHA safety courses.

This year, Mike’s speech was brief and conciliatory. It was almost hopeful.

“We are here to honor those workers that didn’t make it home,” he said. “We’re not here for us. We’re here for them. Because I, personally, refuse to let these people lay dormant in a file somewhere as a number.”

He looked directly at the three state officials sitting in the audience, hoping they were finally hearing all the grief and frustration and pain these families have suffered.

“They are so much more, and they deserve so much more.”

As Mike stepped down from the stage, Andy Sims took his place. The Oakleys brought Sims, the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Jessamine and Garrard County, into their fight as well. Sims wanted to bring criminal charges related to Grant’s death, but he said he was hampered by the state’s poor OSHA investigation.

Sims began slowly reading the names of every worker who died in Kentucky over the last year. Grant’s friends and some of Mike’s students walked on stage, one by one, wearing name tags to represent each of the fallen.

After the speeches, they wrote the names of the people they were representing on balloons. The crowd moved outside and reassembled in a circle around a small obelisk in the dusty parking lot. They released the balloons, and everyone watched them float away until they disappeared.

Since Nov. 3rd, 2015, the Oakleys have been fighting in memory of Grant. But over the years, it’s become just as much about these people, and the loved ones they leave behind. The Oakleys have been fighting so no one else will have to.

And they have no plans to stop. But for the first time in years, they may be fighting alongside the state, rather than against it.

Contact Eleanor Klibanoff at eklibanoff@kycir.org or (502) 814.6544.

 

The post Ky. Worker Safety Leaders Promise Grieving Families They’ll Do Better appeared first on Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.