Worcester Business Journal: Safety Advocates Mourn Fallen Workers, Push for Reforms

By Gerry Tuoti
Wicked Local Newsbank Editor

Posted May. 14, 2016 at 8:00 AM

A Marshfield firefighter was one of 63 workers killed on the job in Massachusetts last year. Mourners crowded in front of the State House steps during a recent ceremony to push for workplace safety reforms and remember those killed.

“Today is a solemn reminder that we have to push even harder,” said Rich Rogers, executive secretary-treasurer of the Greater Boston Labor Council.

One of the names volunteers recited was that of John “Jack” Templeton, 68, a Marshfield firefighter who died Jan. 22, 2015 of occupational colon cancer, said Matthew A. Cohen, president of Marshfield Firefighters Local 2568.

In addition to being recognized at the ceremony, Cohen said Templeton’s name will be added to the national fallen firefighter memorial wall in Colorado in September.

“We are extremely proud of this and are honored to have served with him,” he said.
The term occupational cancer means it qualified as presumed work related for a firefighter that was cancer-free before employment, but later diagnosed, Cohen explained.

“The incredibly high cancer rates in firefighters seem to keep climbing and the knowledge that our families have some protection with the presumption laws help us cope with that knowledge,” he said.

During the ceremony, mourners gently placed red carnations in front of a temporary memorial wall while a solitary bagpiper played “Amazing Grace.”

The names and pictures on the wall belonged to departed workers who plied their trades in dozens of occupations across many industries.

“What they had in common was more important, that their deaths were not freak accidents, that they were not because of human error, that they were not their fault, that they were caused by job hazards that are predictable, that are known and that there are proven strategies for preventing, and that employers and contractors did not do that,” said Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Occupational Safety and Health, the nonprofit organization that organized Thursday’s ceremony.

Fatal injuries in construction accounted for 18 Massachusetts deaths in 2015, more than any other industry, according to a MassCOSH report.

Transportation-related accidents were the most common cause of death, contributing to fatal injuries in 23 worker deaths across all industries. Falls, slips and trips caused 18 fatal injuries, and violence was the cause of six workplace deaths.
Against the backdrop of the Statehouse, Don Dumont described the pain his family has endured since his son Nick died in a Taunton construction accident last September.

“I’m devastated that he’s no longer here,” the father said. “I won’t be able to see him get married, have kids or just be with us. We’ll never feel that again.”

Nick Dumont, a Pawtucket, R.I., resident and an Iraq War veteran, had turned 24 shortly before his death.

While initial reports indicated human error contributed to the accident, Dumont and his attorney said subsequent investigations have revealed that wasn’t the case. Nick Dumont, they said, exercised all appropriate safety precautions while working at the Taunton construction site when a crane violated safety protocols and swung into the steel beam he was harnessed to.

“We cannot take the word of big business for how these incidents occur,” attorney Doug Sheff told the crowd. “We have to question, we have to investigate and we have to litigate.”

David White discussed the loss of his son, Ricardo Oliveira of Woonsocket, R.I., who fell to his death at a Sutton construction site in January.

“He leaves behind a grieving mom, a dad, brothers, a sister,” White said. “Not only was he a good boy, he was an all around good guy. If you needed help, he was the first person people turned to for help.”

According to MassCOSH, eight Massachusetts firefighters died last year, including those who were killed by cancers and other illnesses related to work conditions.

Workers Memorial Day organizers called for more funding for the state Department of Labor Standards, an extension of federal occupational safety protections to all public employees in Massachusetts, wage theft prevention reforms and increased access to workers’ compensation benefits.

Rogers said it’s important to shed light on unsafe working conditions.