Copyright 2003 News & Record (Greensboro, NC)
News & Record (Greensboro, NC)

May 26, 2003 Monday ALL EDITIONS


LENGTH: 393 words


A casual observer would say the policy review following sanitation worker Edmond Davis' death shouldn't last long.

It takes little time to see that losing two city employees in less than two years to nearly identical, preventable deaths calls for substantial change. It takes even less time to see that the Band-Aid placed on the problem after Stephen Antwoine Allen was killed - admonishing workers not to ride the rear of garbage trucks that are backing up - was terribly ineffective.

The easiest solution would be barring employees from riding on the backs of trucks at all, until the city's entire fleet could be automated.

But then the city's self-reflection needs to go deeper. Why wasn't it sufficient to spark change when the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined the city $6,300 last year? And why did the city seek an appeal rather than pay the fine quickly and change the rules to ensure employee safety?

Briefly, after Allen's death, employees were required to stand on the ground. Had that policy stayed in place, Davis likely would be alive today.

OSHA investigators were clear last April: Industry guidelines prohibit workers from standing on riding steps while garbage trucks back up. Yet the city decided to push the envelope, permitting workers to mount the trucks - but only when they were moving forward. Had that policy been strictly enforced, perhaps Davis would be alive today.

It is unlikely that these men were casualties of inexperience. Although Allen was a temporary worker from a staffing agency, and relatively new on the job, Davis was a 15-year veteran of the department, and both truck drivers had earned their colleagues' trust and respect.

Before the temporary ban on rear riding, the city's safety manager complained that the practice was safer than having workers on the ground at risk of being hit by passing traffic. And the city quibbled with OSHA's interpretation of the safety guidelines, saying the rules only applied to riding on the side of trucks, not the rear. As if one couldn't fall beneath a wheel just as easily from either rickety perch.

Surely such callousness will not be repeated this time.

Whether the reforms come in equipment, policy (strict rules keeping sanitation workers on the ground or in the cab) or elsewhere, something must change this time around.