Editor's Notebook: One Death Too Many

Today, A.J. Schroeder was buried. He was killed on the job.

This is the first time I've attended the funeral of a worker killed on the job. I write about such tragedies all the time. I write about preventing such tragedies.

I rarely write about the tears on the faces of the family members, friends and co-workers as they say their last goodbyes. If I'm going to be completely honest with you, I don't like to think about those tears.

I came face-to-face with those tears today.

For people working in downtown Cleveland on Sept. 6, it nearly was impossible not to attend the funeral of this particular worker. You see, the death of Cleveland Police Detective Jonathan "A.J." Schroeder made headlines when he was shot and killed attempting to arrest a suspect in a rape and aggravated robbery on Cleveland's near-West side, not far from where I live.

Police officers from all around Ohio - hundreds of them - patiently waited inside St. John's Cathedral along with Schroeder's family and friends, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, Safety Director Martin Flask and members of Cleveland City Council. Hundreds more waited outside the cathedral, along with thousands of Clevelanders, who lined the route the hearse carrying Schroeder's body would take.

I was struck by the pageantry of the funeral, and the sorrow. Two Cleveland Fire Department trucks arched their ladders over a main intersection, a giant American flag draped between them. Bagpipes sounded a mournful note as hundreds of tough-as-nails cops in dress blues saluted the casket and brushed tears from their cheeks. Some of them knew Schroeder, many did not. But they all felt a kinship with him.

One of Thousands

Schroeder, a 37-year-old 1st District Vice Unit detective with a beautiful wife and a young child who will never know his dad, is part of a new brotherhood, a new family: He is one of the 5,700 or so workers who will die on the job in 2006.

Granted, Schroeder's job was different from many. The hazards, such as criminals with guns and motorists who refuse to pull over for flashing emergency lights, are unpredictable, unlike many jobs where the hazards are known. Cops rely on instinct and experience to protect them as much, if not more, than their training. When they leave home, they know they might not return, and they view that as an acceptable risk.

But every day across the country, funerals are held for workers killed on the job, workers who relied on training and safety equipment and systems to protect them - workers who have every right to expect to safely return home at the end of their shifts.

These solemn events are not attended by thousands, nor do they cause an entire city to stop and pay its respects or include the mayor in the list of mourners. But they represent the same sense of loss. And in most cases, that loss could have been and should have been prevented.

OSHA on Sept. 5 - the day after Labor Day - cited Dominion Marine Group, PRC Environmental and Advanced Demolition with proposed penalties totaling $85,575 following the investigation of a March 21 accident that resulted in the death of two workers.

The Dominion Marine employees were recovering barges sunk during Hurricane Katrina. One employee died from inhaling hydrogen sulfide fumes as he pumped water from a barge compartment. The second employee died during a rescue attempt.

"This tragic accident would have been prevented if the employer had tested for toxic gases and followed OSHA's confined-space regulations," said Clyde Payne, OSHA's Jackson, Miss., area director.

Also in Mississippi, OSHA cited Stringer Oilfield Services for alleged occupational safety and health violations that led to the deaths of three employees in explosions occurring on June 5.

"These employees' lives could have been saved if this employer had followed the OSHA standards requiring purging of containers and piping prior to welding," said Payne.

OSHA cited a Newark, N.J., roofing contractor for alleged fall hazards and failing to report the death of a worker who suffered a fatal, 20-foot fall from a ladder at a Flushing, N.Y., work site on March 27.

"Falls are one of the four leading causes of death in construction, and ladders are present at virtually every job site," said Richard Mendelson, OSHA's area director for Queens, Manhattan and Brooklyn, N.Y. "It's imperative that ladders be properly erected and used. Employees should be trained in safe work practices to prevent deaths such as this one."

While the occupations of police officer, construction worker and oil and gas worker might not have a lot in common, the men and women who hold those jobs do: They have the right to return home to their families at the end of their shifts in the same good health as when they left. They have the right to the best possible training available. They have the right to expect their employers to mitigate as many potential hazards as is humanly possible. They have the right to have access to the best possible safety and personal protective equipment available on the market. They have the right to believe that their lives are more valuable to their employer than schedules, politics or profit margins.

They have a right to expect that the next time their families and circles of friends get together, it won't be to attend their funerals.

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