These are the words of Linden High School student Omar Diaz, 17, remembering his father Victor Diaz, 42 who died on December 1 at North East Linen Supply Company. Mr. Diaz and a co-worker Carlos Diaz, 41, were asphyxiated by chemical fumes while they were cleaning out a 20,000 gallon storage tank at the industrial laundry facility.
New Jersey Asssemblyman Joseph Cryan called immediately for state and federal probes into the workplace deaths, and yesterday, Cong. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), Cong. Donald Payne (D-NJ) and Cong. Robert Andrews (D-NJ) held a congressional hearing “Workplace Tragedies: Examining Problems and Solutions” at Linden City Hall.
The New Jersey Star-Ledger reports that witnesses called for:
“empowering workers to help police workplace safety—and imposing tougher sanctions on employers who endanger the lives of workers.”
The hearing allowed Woolsey, Payne, Andrews and the witnesses to discuss “Protecting America’s Workers Act” (H.R. 2049) which, among other things, would increase monetary penalties, offer better protection for whistleblowers and coverage to the 8 million public sector employees not otherwise covered by the OSH Act. The Star-Ledger notes that the Director of the NJ Work Environment Council, Rick Engler, proposed requiring
“employers to create joint labor/management committees that would have the ‘right to survey the workplace on a regular basis and to investigate accidents, near-accidents and exposures.’”
Another witness, NJ Labor Commissioner David Socolow said:
“At this point in history, OSHA penalties have ceased to be a meaningful threat that could change employer behavior; it’s just a cost of doing business. We need to get every employer to feel that they really ought to create a real, true, worker-management safety and health committee. But they are not going to feel that pressure until there is a stick, and that stick is OSHA.”
Eric Frumin with UNITE-HERE testified that a 2006 inspection by OSHA at another commercial laundry owned by the same company found dozens of safety and health violations, including confined space hazards. At that plant in New Haven, Connecticut, OSHA required the company to identify all possible confined spaces and take steps to ensure workers are protected when entering these dangerous atmospheres. The families and friends of Mr. Carlos Diaz and Mr. Victor Diaz will have to wait for OSHA’s investigation to learn why the “lessons” the company learned from the inspection at its New Haven plant were not applied at the Linden plant.
Omar Diaz said his father was a truck driver for North East Linen and had worked there since 2001. His memorial to his Dad says:
According to one of his co-workers, a man asked for help but they were busy doing something else, so they told him to ask my father. My father, like the man he is, stopped doing what he was doing and helped the guy out. Investigators think that the man fell in [the tank] and my dad tried to save him. The fumes killed them and he passed out. My dad was found laying on the man face down. They found the bodies at 2 pm and didn’t take the bodies out till 5 pm because the fumes were deadly.
All I have to say is don’t take anyone for granted. Live everyday as it was your last. My father died doing what he likes to do: helping people and working.