Workers Memorial Day
April 28, 2006
First, I cry with each and every one of you who have lost a loved one unnecessarily through employer negligence;
Second, I want to thank Barbara Rahke and Betsy Shonkwiler for listening to me, and giving me the opportunity to speak; and
Thirdly, I want to thank my husband, John, for his unending support during these past 10 months and 26 days.
My 22-year-old son, Chuck Carpenter, was killed instantly at work July 2, 2005. It was not an "accident", "unfortunate incident", "terrible tragedy", or any of those other politically correct words. My son was killed.
My son was electrocuted at work. He was a mechanic, not a licensed electrician.
My son worked for William Major who owns and operates Funtown Pier in Seaside Park, New Jersey, which is an amusement park at the Jersey Shore boardwalk. It was two days before the big July 4th money-making weekend. It was hot and humid at the Jersey Shore. My son was sweaty and overtired. He had already worked, approximately, 16 hours that day.
We have not received OSHA's report as of this date; but, from what little I understand, not one, but two employees were electrocuted that single day on the Arctic Circle ride, killing my son instantly with 440 volts. Bulgarian work-visa ride operators AND PATRONS were complaining of being shocked. The New Jersey newspaper reporters reported, "by static electricity." I have heard of static electricity while walking on a rug with slippers on a winter day, but - "static electricity" on a hot, humid summer day? Is this what William Major/Funtown Pier, the employer, told the newspaper and television reporters? If so, how could William Major/Funtown Pier have a license to operate these HIGH VOLTAGE machines?
At the hospital, while the Prosecutor of Ocean County, New Jersey, was questioning me as "if it were a crime scene", I could not comprehend that my son was dead, let alone electrocuted. My son was a mechanic. He loved working on the go-karts, the pulleys, - engines. He loved the challenge of working on the trucks and snow plowing at William Major's "other" place of business, Suffolk Redi Mix. When did my son graduate to a certified electrician? Who trained him? Why did Funtown send my son out to check out an electrical problem?
The next morning, I went to the "crime" scene. It was like a ghost town on the boardwalk, except for the OSHA investigators and the lawyers and representatives for William Major and Funtown Pier. As I was walking down the boardwalk, I noticed the Bulgarian work-visa operators and other operators standing at attention, in uniform, in front of each ride. But where the Mexican, Spanish-speaking maintenance workers that worked alongside my son? OSHA was asking me questions about my son's daily routine, and I kept on saying that they would have to ask the Mexican workers that worked daily with my son. OSHA said, "What Mexican workers? As you can see, there are none." I asked OSHA about the Mexican maintenance worker that was airlifted to the hospital just a few months prior after he was struck by the rollercoaster at Funtown Pier because of serious head and leg injuries. OSHA replied, "We can't find him, he disappeared." I have to ask, who is advocating for these Mexican workers? Corporate America?
The operative cause of my son's workplace death was that the owner of a company using dangerous machinery powered by HIGH VOLTAGE electric power, allowed that these machines be maintained by an unlicenced worker untrained in that field. It should have been obvious that such power installations required the employment of a trained and licenced electrician. Sadly, my son's work ethic contributed to his death. Young, ambitious men are likely to get out of their depth, and sometimes must be prevented from doing so, by their employer and by government regulation.
Even the best- regulated operations, well-trained workers will sometimes be injured or even, sadly, killed. But, it is the job of OSHA and other government agencies to reduce those cases to the absolute minimum. How hard would it be for such an agency to declare that HIGH VOLTAGE power must be maintained by a licenced electrician, to determine that a company uses such power, and to demand to see a copy of the license?
It would seem to me that allowing untrained and unlicenced personnel to work with HIGH VOLTAGE power should be illegal, and probably is, but why was there no mechanism to ensure compliance?
Is it because OSHA positions are politically appointed that the majority of the time OSHA does not impose a jail sentence in a work-related death or impose stiff fines and penalties because of pay-to-play political party donations? Is it possible that such regulations and reporting requirements already exist, but that unscrupulous business owners might gain immunity from them through political influence?
Or is it because the public and employees are unaware of the dangers at these work places due to the lack of correct newspaper reporting or the lack of reporting, especially in the Amusement and Ride Industry?
In the Minutes of the Meeting, dated October 20, 2005, of the Carnival and Amusement Ride Safety Advisory Board, Board Member Mr. Gehlhaus stated that " . . . (he) was pleased with the number of serious accidents and overall LACK OF INTEREST on the part of the press in reporting ride accidents. He notes that a reporter interviewed him and Mr. Connolly and the article took several weeks to reach print and he wasn't even quoted. He felt that was a good thing." Board Member Mr. Connolly stated " . . . that the objective from the time the program came to the Department was that the press coverage had to be more balanced and fewer articles. The Department and the industry have worked hard to get to this point."
The last time I saw my son he had a clipboard with a check list for the New Jersey ride inspectors. The rides were just inspected by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs. How could this ride pass inspection and then kill my son?
There is now a rumor that OSHA is dropping my son's case. John Barrett, Safety Supervisor of the Marlton Area OSHA, allegedly stated that OSHA is having a hard time investigating my son's employer (William Major/Funtown Pier). That the employer (William Major/Funtown Pier) did not have "knowledge of the situation." Mr. Barrett also allegedly stated that the New Jersey Carnival and Amusement Ride Safety Advisory Board will be doing the report? What "report."
My son's case was listed, back in December, on OSHA'S web site as closed, without citation. But, we still have not received OSHA's report (the 220 plus page report is in the mail as I speak). Is the New Jersey Carnival and Amusement Ride Safety Board really going to be responsible for overseeing my son's work-place death? Isn't the New Jersey Carnival and Amusement Ride Safety Board under the same government department that inspected the ride my son was killed by?
My son's employer, William Major/Funtown Pier is a member of the New Jersey Amusement Association and is regularly represented at the New Jersey Carnival and Amusement Ride Safety Advisory Board meetings.
As I stated earlier, this is "rumor". However, if this ends up to be true, this is law and politics at its worst.
In New Jersey a hairdresser or barber must be licensed! Why can we not do so for more dangerous workplace environments?
My son's work-place death began as a crime scene. Is it going to conclude as a criminal investigation? The reality is, probably not. The crime is that right now, probably right at this moment, another family just lost a loved one to a work-place death, which, more than likely, could have been prevented.
In conclusion, per Donald Coit Smith, whose 22-year-old son was also electrocuted in a meat packing facility in Texas last year . . . "Employer negligence is all about money . . . elect legislators who will take the public's best interest at heart and make these law changes to protect the common man. Too much employer PAC money is given to elected officials to (make) employer favorable laws."
It is time to stop the "Pay-to-Play" politics in New Jersey.
PLEASE VOTE WISELY.
And - just for public safety information, if you and your family enjoy amusement rides at a park or the boardwalk, and you think your "carpel tunnel syndrome is acting up" because of "buzzing" in your hands and/or arms while holding on to the ride, you are more than likely being electrocuted. Get off the ride immediately and call the police. Do not notify the park operators and assume all will be taken care of by the owners. Or - if your child is throwing up after getting off a ride, do not always assume motion sickness, his or her heart may have experienced interrupted rhythms because of an electrical problem.
Thank you. Chuck's Mom
Life's not about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about learning to dance in the rain!