According to the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH), 69 workers in Massachusetts died of documented occupational injuries or disease sustained on the job in 2018, that last full year of available statistics.
Last Thursday, the judicial system did the right thing, convicting a drain pipe company owner of manslaughter in connection with the tragic drowning of two workers in a South End trench collapse in 2016.
Suffolk Superior Court Judge Mitchell Kaplan found Kevin Otto, 45, of Blackstone, and his company, Atlantic Drain Service, guilty of two counts each of manslaughter and one count of witness intimidation in the work-site cave-in that killed Kelvin “Chuck” Mattocks, a 53-year-old Brockton father of six, and 47-year-old Robert Higgins of Warren, R.I. Mattocks and Higgins were killed on Oct. 21, 2016, when underground materials supporting a hydrant in the allegedly unshored hole they were digging below Dartmouth Street gave way, partially burying the men up to their waists. A fire hydrant collapsed into the hole, flooding the trench within seconds.
The tragic event was captured in award-winning images by former Boston Herald photographer Mark Garfinkel. A local construction worker, Steven Smith Jr., tried valiantly to save the men. His emotional distress prompted a civil lawsuit against Atlantic Drain, which was stayed pending the outcome of the criminal case, according to his attorney, Jason Stone.
“Steven has not been the same person since this incident,” Stone told the Herald, adding he’s looking for the company to “focus on Mr. Smith, and the families of the victims, and compensate them for the horrible losses they have endured.”
The verdict highlights the need to hold companies responsible for worker safety. Industrial accidents do happen — but steps can be taken to minimize the dangers. Companies cannot take shortcuts where worker safety is concerned. They must meet all regulations, provide training, enact on-site safety measures and basically make sure that the people in their employ make it home to their families at the end of the day.
The government has a role in ensuring safety, too. It’s not enough to just pass regulations — enforcement is essential.
Suffolk Assistant District Attorneys Lynn Feigenbaum and Michael Glennon argued that Otto and his company “knowingly and willfully” placed the workers “in extreme danger by failing to utilize cave-in protection, and that Otto lied and produced false documentation to investigators,” according to the DA’s office.
“The defendants had a responsibility to take measures ensuring the safety of their employees. Instead, they flouted those regulations time and again, without regard for the lives of the workers they recklessly and callously put at risk,” Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins said, adding that the verdicts send “a strong message that, in Suffolk County, those who willfully risk their employees’ lives will face criminal consequences.”
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