Fall Victim's Family Pushes Stronger Safety Regulations

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A Lincoln man fell to his death while on the job earlier this year and now family members are calling for increased safety standards to prevent similar accidents.

On January 29th, 51-year-old Robert Fitch died after falling from a manlift at the Archer Daniels Midland plant in Lincoln.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has since fined ADM $2,500, but Fitch's family wants to do more to ensure accidents like this don't happen again.

Manlifts are a fairly common way for companies to move workers from one floor to the next without installing an elevator. They're especially common in grain elevators in the Midwest.

But, a some lifts don't have to comply with all OSHA standards due to grandfather clauses. Robert Fitch's niece says it's time for policy makers and companies to realize the danger of manlifts, and make sure her uncle's death was not in vain.

"His biggest pride was his children," said Tonya Ford, talking about her Uncle Robert.

Being a man who considered family his life, Robert Fitch's death has been especially hard to deal with.

"Knowing that he's not here to see his children grow up, graduate college, get married, get their first home, everything like that," Ford said.

Ford says all the pain could have been avoided if the manlift Fitch fell from at the Lincoln ADM plant in January was safer.

"I don't feel that it's safe for anybody," said Ford. "You're supposed to have a caged in area around you."

Essentially, a manlift is a tall column running vertically through a hole in every floor of a building. The column has a belt running continually around it, with foot and hand-holds placed every few feet. A worker steps on the foot hold and grabs the hand-hold to ride up or down to a desired floor. But, if the worker lets go of the hand hold there's generally nothing to stop a fall to the nearest platform which was as far as 80 feet down in Fitch's case.

"Even putting a platform every 10 feet, so if they do fall off the manlift they land on this platform," suggested Ford. "They may get a broken arm or leg, but they still have their life.

OSHA fined ADM only $2,500.

"... [The] fine says nothing, and is intended to say nothing, about the worth of the victim. That has nothing to do with it," said Bernard Hauber, OSHA assistant area director for Omaha.

Instead, the fine was lowered based on promises from ADM to improve manlift safety for it's workers.

"That's what we want out of this," said Ford. "They [employees] go to work and they come home safe to their families."

But it's not just ADM Ford and her family hope to improve. They want to make sure no one endures the same avoidable loss they have.

"My goal is to remember my uncle and talk to the senator's office and find out what changes we can make to the law," said Ford.

According to OSHA's web site, since 2000 there have been four work place fatalities directly related to falling off manlifts.

Ford says she has a June meeting planned with Malcolm Senator Ken Haar. Before that time she would like to hear from any other families that have dealt with a manlift related accident.

Contact Tonya Ford by E-mail at: tford@neb.rr.com