Massachusetts Hit With Four Worker Fatalities This Month

October 26, 2023

Jame Jones, Communications Coordinator

BOSTON The death of four Massachusetts workers in the last three weeks is a clear sign that more must be done to protect workers on the job, said the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety & Health (MassCOSH) in a statement released today.

On October 4, Richard J. Plescia, a 74-year-old resident of East Falmouth who worked for the Falmouth Public Works Department, was operating a Public Works pickup truck when the vehicle crashed into a tree. He sustained serious injuries and was pronounced dead shortly after arriving to Falmouth Hospital. Police are still investigating the cause of this tragic crash. His family described him as someone who “swore like a sailor with a heart of gold.”

Meanwhile, on October 10, Donald Schaefer, a 67-year-old resident of Braintree, was working at Troupe Waste and Recycling in Abington, when he tragically fell from a forklift and sustained serious injuries. He was transported to South Shore Hospital where he was sadly pronounced dead. According to reports, Schaefer was working with two other people and using the forklift to offload steel container bottoms. He was reportedly standing on top of one of the loads to counter-balance its weight when everything shifted, causing him to fall and several steel container bottoms to fall on top of him.

According to OSHA, it is required that only stable/safely arranged loads within the rated capacity of the forklift be used and that any loads that cannot be centered are handled with caution.

Two days later, on the morning of October 12, 49-year-old Lanesborough resident Shane Cassavant was working in a construction zone in Pittsfield, when he was tragically struck and killed by an eastbound 2015 Chevrolet Colorado that entered the construction zone. Before the crash, the eastbound lane was reportedly closed off, with a flagger redirecting traffic to the westbound lane. According to his obituary, “Shane was inquisitive all of his life and continued to learn through life experiences.”

For preventing accidents at roadway construction zones, OSHA requires that any such worksites have legible traffic control signs and that they are protected by traffic control devices. It also requires that two-way traffic in a one lane roadway is controlled by a flagger at each end of the lane, and that one of them is designated as the coordinator. If the construction zone is small enough that one flagger can see from one end of the worksite to the other, a single flagger can be used. If only a single flagger is used, they must be positioned on the shoulder across from the construction zone and maintain good visibility to drivers.

Lastly, this week, on the morning of October 23, Nicholas Marks, a 40-year-old East Weymouth resident and employee of Sky Safety Inc, tragically fell an unknown number of stories while cleaning the windows of a 32-story building in the Financial District in downtown Boston. When paramedics arrived, they pronounced him dead at the scene. In conversations with the media, Marks’ co-workers have described him as a “great person” and friend. One co-worker added, “[he had] two beautiful children, and he will be missed greatly.”

Unfortunately, window cleaning continues to be a very dangerous and risky profession. There have been 28 fatal accidents in the United States involving window cleaners in the last five years. Gerardo Ortiz, a co-worker of Nicholas Marks who’s worked in window cleaning for 18 years, said “We wake up every morning to go to work and we don’t know what’s going to happen that day.”

Regarding what might have contributed to Marks’ fall, Ortiz added “You never know what could have happened. The equipment failed. It’s a lot of weight on the ropes.” According to eyewitness accounts, three ropes hung down the side of the building Monday morning, with a fourth that seemed to have snapped at around the 16th story. His bosun’s chair was also reportedly found near where he fell.

For employers using rope descent systems, OSHA requires:

• That the system is inspected at the start of every shift and any damaged or defective equipment are replaced
• That the system has proper rigging, including anchorages and tiebacks
• That each employee uses a separate, independent personal fall arrest system
• That all components of each rope descent system are capable of sustaining a minimum rated load of 5,000 pounds, except seat boards which must support a live load of at least 300 pounds

32BJ SEIU, which represents window cleaners in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, is looking into this tragedy. “We extend our deepest condolences and offer our prayers to Mr. Marks’ family and his loved ones,” said Roxana Rivera, Assistant to the President of 32BJ SEIU, in an official statement. “It is of utmost importance that all companies rigorously adhere to safety regulations, and we are engaging with the contractor to understand the circumstances of this tragic accident.” OSHA is also investigating the incident.

With the loss of these four workers, there have been 42 deaths from workplace injury across the Commonwealth this year.

“Our thoughts are with the friends, family, and colleagues of the all workers we sadly lost over the course of this month and were unable to return home to their families after their shift,” said MassCOSH Chief of Strategy & Engagement Al Vega. “These devastating losses are a tragic reminder of the many potentially fatal risks workers face each day just to get a paycheck, most of which are preventable by employers willing to invest in and provide adequate training, equipment, and any other protective measures to keep every worker free of workplace injury and harm every day they are on the job.”