Wednesday, March 24, 2021

What is the state’s most dangerous job?

     Larry Lucas, Robert Wiggins, Leonard Olson and William Walsh.
     Those names probably mean nothing to you, and why should they? It was almost 48 years ago — April 11, 1973 — that the four employees of Westinghouse’s elevator division were putting finishing touches on an elevator shaft at the nearly-topped-out Sears Tower, using turpentine to scrub away oil the foundry put on the steel rails to keep them from rusting.
     They were on a platform on the 42nd floor, in a “blind shaft” — two entrances, one 20 feet above their heads and another 100 feet below — when a spark ignited the turpentine. Other workers heard their screams and tried to break into the shaft to get to them, hammering at the concrete walls. But of course it was too late.
     We seldom consider workers who lose their lives. They don’t even get the little gratuitous nod we give first responders, though it might be argued that they do one better than saving the city: They built it in the first place, and keep it running.
     I thought of these four lost workers Monday morning because of an email with the enigmatic subject line: “BLS Midwest News Update: March 22-26, 2021.” You’d never open that, right? I did. The “BLS” is Bureau of Labor Statistics — part of the same federal government that took the lead in developing vaccines; I sure hope their medical judgment is better than their ability to craft catchy subject lines, or we’re all in trouble.
     The email inside is clear, and the message isn’t good: 5,333 fatal work injuries in the United States in 2019, up 2% from the year before and the highest toll in a dozen years. Of those deaths, 158 were in Illinois.

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9 comments:

  1. Great column. Didn't know about the Sears Tower incident, but not surprised. I work in Engineering/Construction and the company always puts safety as a top priority. So important that everyone goes home at night.

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  2. Thanks for today's column... thought provoking.

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  3. I seem to remember hearing that the most dangerous profession is commercial fishing. The ocean is a difficult environment. Also, although I never witnessed serious injury, it struck me that serving on a warship was dangerous: lots of moving metal parts and tricky footing in heavy seas. People who've been there will always choke up hearing the hymn composed in the 1800's by an English clergyman and adopted by both the U.S. and Royal Navy's.

    "Eternal savior , strong to save.
    Whose arm hath bound the restless wave.
    Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep,
    It's own appointed limits keep.
    Oh hear us when we cry to thee,
    For those on peril on the sea."

    Tom

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    1. I'm not surprised that you like that; it's always been a favorite of mine. In fact, I keep it on a keychain attached to my briefcase. I tried to get my son to take it to China with him, and it figured into one of my favorite posts: http://www.everygoddamnday.com/2013/07/every-traveler-needs-piece-of-good-luck.html

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    2. Brings to mind the The N...... of the Narcissus, which I suppose isn't read much anymore. A shame, since it's a very good story and by no means dismissive of the N....... Conrad's introduction makes it clear that he understood the difficulties Black seamen encountered in the British Navy and insisted on using the forbidden word to make just that point.

      john

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  4. In early April of '73, I was in a fog-filled bubble--packing up to move to California, after closing down my business and splitting up with my partner. That's probably why I have no memory of this tragedy at all.

    Very sad story. Weren't there any less flammable chemicals for removing oil? Turpentine can be a highly dangerous under the wrong conditions. Never liked being around it. My first wife was a painter (as in artist).

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    1. In the Navy, we used trichloroethylene until they outlawed it. A very good solvent, but deadly in close quarters.

      john

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  5. For a career to be dangerous it doesn't have to be deadly. In fact, the injuries don't have to be physical. Think about the stress that some endure in fields like teaching, running a business, or how about writing?

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