Thursday, January 18, 2018
Business

Trigaux: Amid Tampa Electric workplace tragedy, a reminder too many Floridians die at work

The lives lost at Tampa Electric's Big Bend Power plant in Apollo Beach are a tragedy, the latest frustrating example of too many people dying in too many ways at work in Florida.

RELATED COVERAGE: Sheriff's Office releases names of victims of industrial accident at Tampa Electric Co. plant

Workers who have lost their lives in this state have died in a wide array of ways, from drownings and shootings to being hit by falling tree limbs, according to data compiled by the U.S. Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA.

The No. 1 cause of worker death (excluding highway collisions), based on a review Friday of OSHA records, is by falls. Off ladders. Off roofs. Off scaffolding. Out of trees. Through gaps in suspended walkways.

For example, OSHA nationally tracked the most common ways workers died in 2015. The agency call these the "Fatal Four" and for that year the number of U.S. workplace deaths broke down this way:

• Falls — 364 deaths out of 937 or nearly 39 percent of total deaths occurred in construction.

• Struck by Object — 90 deaths out of 937 or 9.6 percent.

• Electrocutions — 81 out of 937 or 8.6 percent.

• Caught-in/between — 67 out of 937 or 7.2 percent. This refers to construction workers killed when caught-in or compressed by equipment or objects, and struck, caught, or crushed in a collapsing structure, equipment, or material.

The Tampa Bay Times reviewed OSHA-reported fatalities of Florida workers in more recent years, from October 2015 to early March 2017, the latest dates available. We found 116 workplace deaths in this state. Falls again were the main cause of the fatalities.

In the Tampa Bay metro area, according to OSHA, since last October falls accounted for the death of Marshall Garrett while working for a Tarpon Springs business, and Hector Ramos while doing construction labor for a St. Petersburg firm.

In December, Pablo Feminias was killed after being struck by a front loader while working for a trucking company at Port Tampa Bay. Early in 2016, Pablo Pedraza, working for Liberty Land Management in Tampa, drowned when the lawnmower he was on fell into a lake.

A large number of Florida victims on OSHA's list have Spanish names, one sign of who tends to be employed in more dangerous outdoor jobs such as construction, tree trimming and other hard labor tasks.

Eight workers have been electrocuted in Florida since the fall of 2015 in jobs involving tree trimming, installing ducts for air conditioning, repairing an elevator or working on an electrical junction box.

Others have died at work in more unusual ways.

Zookeeper Stacey Konwiser was killed April 15, 2016, after being mauled by an endangered Malayan tiger at the Palm Beach Zoo.

My sincere condolences go out not only to the families of those killed at Tampa Electric's Big Bend Plant this week. They extend to all the 100-plus workers who died in too many Florida workplaces in recent years.

Some jobs clearly are a lot more risky than others. Take a moment over this long weekend to tell neighbors, friends and loved ones:

Be careful out there.

Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected] Follow @venturetampabay.

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