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OSHA won't investigate worker's death in Kansas sewer

Some Kansas workers are exposed to daily workplace dangers. Employees accept job risks, although employers are charged with making sure work environments follow federal and state safety guidelines.

Employers carry workers' compensation insurance to cover job-related employee illnesses, injuries and deaths. Not every work accident is caused by safety negligence although, when it is, more than one party may be responsible.

A 40-year-old man recently died while performing repairs on a sewer pipe in Kansas City. The Water Services Department employee was working in a manhole when a rubber plug in a sewer line failed to hold. Sewage rushed from the 15-inch pipe and filled the space.

Colleagues attempted a rescue by jumping into the manhole but could not recover the worker's body until a backhoe was used to free the sewage. The maintenance employee was pronounced dead at the scene. Neck and facial injuries killed the father of two teens. Water department officials believe the worker might have been struck by the rubber plug when it disengaged.

The city is conducting an internal investigation to learn how the fatal accident occurred. Jurisdictional boundaries will keep the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration from entering the case.

The victim worked for the water department for 14 years. It was not likely that he made mistakes on the job that a newcomer might. Something happened to loosen the plug that held back the sewage. The plug could have been old or defective. Another maintenance worker could have replaced the plug improperly at an earlier time.

An independent investigation could uncover proof of third-party negligence. In that case, the children of the veteran city worker could file a wrongful death claim for damages.

Many workplace injury victims believe or are told that the only benefits available are through workers' compensation. Financial recovery from negligent defendants other than an employer can be sought through civil court.

Source:  kansascity.com, "KC water employee died when plug gave way in sewage pipe" Christine Vendel and Mike Hendricks, Jul. 23, 2013

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