July 11, 2023

Southern Indiana construction site fatality highlights industry’s persistently high death rate

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Nationally, the construction industry had the highest number of fatal work injuries and the third highest rate in 2021, according to the latest federal data.  - Pixabay

Nationally, the construction industry had the highest number of fatal work injuries and the third highest rate in 2021, according to the latest federal data.

Pixabay

A worker died on a southern Indiana construction site last week after being crushed. The incident may reflect some the risks construction workers face as the industry’s nationwide rate of work fatalities remains stubbornly high.

Sherry Gentry, 52, was crushed by a dump truck while working as a “flagger,” directing traffic around road construction near Wadesville. Officials said she died shortly after despite EMS attempts to resuscitate her.

The Posey County Sheriff's Office and state police are investigating. It's not yet clear whether Indiana's Occupational Health & Safety Administration (IOSHA) is also involved.

It’s not known who Gentry was employed by at this time. According to Gentry’s obituary, she was a mother of three and grandmother of four who enjoyed making stained glass and hunting.

In an unrelated case, IOSHA recently proposed a $6,300 fine against West Lafayette-based Atlas Excavating for a fatality from December 2022 in central Indiana.

The worker, 53-year-old Larry Stinson, died by being crushed after an excavator holding a concrete box pinned him in a trench, according to a short description of the incident on the federal OSHA website.

Atlas Excavating declined to comment, citing an ongoing appeal of the fine.

WRTV first reported on the fine and obtained a more detailed safety order for the incident. That safety order said the company failed to create a work environment “free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees, when employees were exposed to struck-by and crush hazards.”

 

 

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An IOSHA spokesperson did not respond to a request for the safety order or information on either case in time for publication.

According to Stinson’s obituary, he was a father and grandfather who “had a special kind of love for animals” and enjoyed collecting roadside relics.

Nationally, the construction industry had the highest number of fatal work injuries and the third highest rate in 2021, according to the latest federal data. That year in Indiana, 20 construction trades workers died – the state’s third-highest fatality total since at least 2011.

Workers over 50, like Gentry and Stinson, are often more represented in construction fatalities than younger workers. And being crushed or struck are among the most common causes of death in this industry, both beaten by falls. 

Officials, experts and advocates have posited a wide variety of potential reasons the construction industry's death rate is so high including the lack of unions, lax worker training or government inspections, and regulations based that are based on weak evidence or are poorly implemented.

Adam is our labor and employment reporter. Contact him at arayes@wvpe.org or follow him on Twitter at @arayesIPB.

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