The Worst Health and Safety Fail That Looked Safe

That is a bold statement and to be honest I would accept arguments on other cases without much protest. For me, the worst health and safety fail that looked safe happened to Archie Tyler in 2001.

Mr Tyler was a watershed maintenance worker in the Bronx, New York. This 43 year old guy was dispatched with colleagues to the Jerome Park Reservoir.  Jerome Park is in the Bronx and the reservoir is about a football field in size. It was built in 1906 as part of the water supply system for the New Croton Aqueduct.

Aerial Google shot of Jerome Park water and surrounding urban housing.
Thanks to Google maps, all rights reserved. Jerome Park where Archie Tyler died while just doing a routine job.

By the time Mr Tyler arrived on that awful day the water was about 2 feet deep and it was seen as a risk. Not that it seemed a risk to the workers. The concern was that mosquitoes would breed and spread the West Nile River Virus. At 08.30 am the three man crew took to a small boat and paddled out to where the central drain was located. This had become clogged with debris and needed clearing. Mr Tyler got out of the boat and using a rake began to move the obstruction.

The drain, which had no grating, led to a 20 inch pipe. Once it was cleared the water surged into the new opening.

So there was the scene. Mr Tyler was held by his colleagues as the pressure tried to force him into the pipe. What could they do? They were in a boat and could lend no purchase, the bottom of the reservoir was algae covered and slippery.

Fire service personnel found Mr Tyler’s body when they accessed the drain via a maintenance hatch. He had been sucked down 15 feet and then into a connecting pipe, he had then been dragged 200ft until his body was lodged at a bend.

Union local President Ed Bennett said, ‘ If you saw the drain and the water, you really wouldn’t expect that cleaning the drain could put your life at risk. Still, DEP ( Department of Environmental Protection) had a responsibility to evaluate the job for any possible hazards, which could have prevented this tragedy.’

The Tragic Fact: Water, Fire, Weight, Height and Electricity Kill

It is the terrible consequence of being taken into that pipe that haunts me a little bit. I am not going to speculate on exactly what happened after Mr Tyler went under. I have looked for the findings of the Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau investigation and I cannot locate it online. At the time the local DEP were criticised for not providing a tripod support for harnesses and for providing no information about the risks involved ahead of time. I can’t comment on if they were finally found at fault. I can say that in 2 foot of water nothing usually looks dangerous.

Now I have heard this story of course my approach would be cautious.  Unfortunately that is how health and safety has progressed. Our own safety has often been assured because of people like Archie Tyler. Honestly speaking? If I had been on that crew on that day in 2001, I might have been the one with the rake, all the while thinking, ‘ This won’t take long.’

Regards

Chris Hodge

References: Local Union article Click Here 

New York Times article Click Here 

Here are some other case study articles.

Australian Firm Fined 1m Aus Dollars. Click here

‘It Will Be Right’ Trench walls and excavators increase the risk. Click here

 

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