May 28th, 2015
A Factory is the Quietest Place to Die in America
We’re all familiar with news stories about death that grab our attention and refuse to let go.
From cancer to car crashes to bullet wounds, it often feels like the perpetual American media machine would shut down if it stopped reporting all the tragic, extraordinary ways that people die every day.
Yet there’s one way to go out in America that too often guarantees anonymity – the fatal workplace accident inside a manufacturing facility.
Yes, many on-the-job fatalities grab headlines – mass shootings by disgruntled co-workers, falls at big-city construction sites or multi-fatality mining accidents come to mind. But recently, there have been a couple of accidental deaths inside door and window facilities that few outside the trade media noticed.
Tim Harris of Quanex died on April 22 in Glendale, Ariz., while visiting a door and window manufacturer. The non-trade press didn’t report on it, even though Harris was a well-known manager for a large, publicly traded company.
Steven Amdall was crushed to death at an aluminum extruding plant near Dallas in late November of 2014, but DWM didn’t hear anything about it until February 2015 – and then only because of a random comment left on our website. A search of local media in Texas turned up zero details about how he died.
After we published our initial story on Amdall’s death, I got an e-mail from someone who knew him, who asked: “Do you know why there is nothing out there about what happened?”
I had no answer – and that bothered me.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), manufacturing accounted for 304 workplace deaths in 2013, the latest year for which complete statistics are available. That’s nothing like the darkest days of the Industrial Revolution when workplace deaths were shockingly common, but even a single fatality is one too many.
Safety remains a major concern for the door and window industry, even in modern, high-tech facilities. Business owners need to ensure that factories aren’t dangerous, and they must increase efforts to educate employees — and the public — about safety.
This might not be a popular position, but I think more media coverage of tragic workplace deaths could help.
Nobody should die while on the job, but when it happens, we shouldn’t ignore it, downplay it or cover it up. As long as the family of the deceased is OK with it, I believe that wider coverage of these deaths serves a vital purpose.
Not for ratings or website clicks, but as a visceral reminder of the importance of workplace safety – and, on a deeper level, as a validation of every life and vocation.
It’s the least the media can do to honor hard-working people like Tim Harris and Steven Amdall.