The death this week of a 33-year-old Mill City man is being investigated by the sheriff’s office in Linn County but, based on a report in the Salem Statesman-Journal, there are strong indications that it fits the definition of an Oregon industrial accident.
As I wrote in this space just a few days ago, the lumber industry has one of the highest rates of workplace fatalities here in a state where workplace deaths rose last year, even as they declined nationwide. According to the Statesman-Journal this particular accident took place on Wednesday in Mill City. The victim is reported to have been at work in a lumber mill “repairing a wood press when it activated and crushed him.”
“Police are investigating the situation along with the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA,” according to the newspaper. One of the things they will surely look at is whether this fatality should be classified as an Oregon industrial accident. Oregon law requires that machinery, particularly potentially dangerous machinery, be serviced properly and that workers operating and maintaining it have proper training. It is disturbing to read that a wood press activated at a point when it should not have been connected to a power supply at all. In lumber mills and other potentially dangerous workplaces proper “Lockout/Tagout” procedures, like those outlined by the US Department of Labor (see this link) are essential. Rules like this do not represent onerous government regulation but, rather, are essential safety measures designed to protect workers from employers who might be tempted to cut corners to put a few extra dollars onto the bottom line.
Among the questions that need to be examined will be whether the workers preparing the machinery for repair were not properly trained in the procedures for making the machine safe prior to servicing that could be a cause for legal action. Similarly, if the machine activated due to a fault that can be traced to a failure to maintain it properly that, too, would fit the definition of an industrial accident. Finally, if any party is at fault due to negligence in performing any of these duties, they may also be subject to Oregon wrongful death claims, that includes third parties, such as independent contractors, who may be assigned to set-up and/or maintain machinery.
As an Oregon industrial accident attorney I see cases like this all too frequently. As the police and OSHA conduct their investigations, let us all hope that the cause of this tragedy can be quickly pinpointed and appropriate action taken to ensure that nothing similar happens again.
The Statesman-Journal: Mill City man crushed to death in lumber mill