The Loss of Michael

February 10, 2014

The recent death of long-time Natick employee Michael F. McDaniel Jr., is a stark reminder of the dangers our municipal public works employees face each day. It also highlights the urgent need for health and safety requirements that meet or exceed those in the private sector.
McDaniel was killed and his co-worker Scott M. Spurling was injured February 5, while working at a temporary work zone to repair a broken water main. Those on site report that a backhoe being utilized during the repair work was moved forward while the workers were in the trench and were struck by a backhoe stabilizer arm that had not been retracted before moving.
“Our hearts go out to the family of Mr. McDaniel,” said Robert Burns, a MassCOSH health and safety senior advisor. “While the investigation is still underway, we do know that being struck-by construction equipment is one of the major causes of injury and death to workers in work zones.”

Six municipal workers, including McDaniel, have lost their lives since 2008 while working in or around street and highway work zones in Massachusetts. Other workers have been seriously injured. In fact, the state’s Department of Labor Standards (DLS) issued an alert in 2011 to draw attention to the substantial number of injuries and deaths in work zones. DLS noted that The Federal Highway Administration has developed detailed safety measures designed to prevent work zone injuries. These include specifications for signage, pavement and curb markings, and traffic signals. OSHA also established construction industry regulations (29 CFR 1926, Subpart O) which address the operation of vehicles and equipment within an off-highway job site not open to public traffic.
Unlike private employers, public employers are not covered under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). Massachusetts remains one of a minority of states whose public employees are not covered by OSHA.

“The inadequacy of safety requirements for public employers has resulted in inconsistent implementation of safety programs, putting tens of thousands of workers at risk,” stated MassCOSH Executive Director Marcy Goldstein-Gelb.  “Furthermore, many municipalities are not aware that under Massachusetts law, the Department of Labor Standards (DLS) is charged with inspecting public sector workplaces and determining the measures needed to ensure worker safety.”

According to DLS, “In the absence of specific standards, it is the policy of our office that public sector employees follow the OSHA Standards as a minimum. Compliance with the OSHA Standards will in most cases ensure compliance with the intent of Chapter 149 section 6.”

Have you lost a loved one on the job? For years, MassCOSH has developed a network of individuals affected by workplace fatalities to offer each other support and challenge unsafe working conditions. When you feel you are ready, please reach out to MassCOSH Membership Coordinator Jeff Newton at for more information