IN 1990 AND the first half of '91, 61 workers lost their live while earning a living in Maryland.
They were killed at construction sites, in factories and under the wheels of their own work vehicles. They died from falls, electrocutions, explosions and falling objects.
"We're still killing people at an alarming rate on the job in Maryland," says Henry Koellein Jr., state commissioner of labor and industry.
Martin Collins was killed when he was caught in a paper shredder. Raymond Pritts was electrocuted by a defective toaster in a factory lunchroom. And Glen Fahy was buried in a cave-in.
George Carroll died in a fireworks explosion. Benjamin Ingle 3rd was electrocuted when a crane hit a power line. Carroll Hinson fell to his death from a scaffold. And Edwin Croker was run over by a front-end loader.
Despite the variety of ways workers died, there is one tragic conclusion: Simple precautions by employers and workers could have prevented 90 percent of the fatalities, says the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health agency.
An Evening Sun review of MOSH case files for fatal accidents and related safety violations during the last year and a half shows that:
* Many cases still are under investigation or are being contested. But in the 32 fatalities in which MOSH has cited companies and imposed fines, the average amount was $3,165. The lowest fine was $70 and the highest, $29,600.
* In a majority of these cases -- 18 of 32 -- the violations involved not having a worker safety program or failing to train workers properly.
* Sometimes the victims contributed to their own deaths -- by disregarding safety instructions, refusing to wear protective equipment or by consuming alcohol.
All of the 61 victims were men; the average age was about 38. The youngest was 19; the oldest 65. Construction sites and industrial plants produced the most fatalities.
Forty deaths occurred in 1990. About 47,000 other workers were luckier that year. They were hurt in workplace accidents and lost at least one day's work due to their injuries.
The death toll has accelerated in 1991. So far, 21 people have been killed, even though there were fewer workers on the job due to the recession. The number of injuries is not known.
MOSH officials are at a loss to explain why the spring of 1991 was one of the deadliest they've ever seen. In the last few years, the number of workplace fatalities has fluctuated between 35 and 40 a year. In 1989, MOSH investigated 35 worker deaths.
One of 1990's youngest victims was Glen Fahy, 22, of Forestville, who on March 8 was helping construct an interlocking retaining wall at the entrance to a construction site in Anne Arundel County. Suddenly, the wall of earth above the workers began to crumble. They scrambled to escape but Fahy and another man were trapped in dirt and mud up to their waists.
Frantically, workers tried to help them, but more of the earth gave way, this time burying Fahy completely. By the time rescue workers got to him, he was dead. Two co-workers escaped with injuries.
Their employer, Crib-Lock Retaining Wall Inc. of Annandale, Va., was fined $650 for failing to properly plan the support system, failing to have daily inspections on the site and not training workers properly.
Four days after Fahy died, Martin Collins, 37, of Westminster, was working at the McGregor Printing Corp. in his home town. A conveyor belt was feeding paper into a shredder but the machine became clogged. As he had done many times in the past, Collins climbed onto the belt and tried to clear the jam. But this time, something went wrong. The belt started and Collins was pulled into the shredder and cut to pieces.
McGregor Printing was fined $1,340 for having faulty equipment and no training program.
L Even long-time employees are not immune to lapses in safety.
George Carroll, 64, of Chestertown, had worked 26 years at the New Jersey Fireworks plant in Elkton, but he may have triggered the explosion that killed him last July 12.
Workers are not supposed to wear or take anything into the plant that might cause a spark. But Carroll had a butane lighter and some coins in his pocket and was wearing a belt with a metal buckle. Normally he left the lighter in his truck. But that day, for some reason, he had slipped the lighter into his pocket under his protective overalls.
Though the exact cause of the explosion could not be determined, the company was fined $740 because Carroll had the dangerous personal items.
The Evening Sun review of fatalities shows that the most dangerous type of work was construction, which claimed 21 lives during the last year and a half, or 34 percent of the total of 61, even though construction employees account for just 9.5 percent of Maryland's overall work force.
Of the construction deaths, falls killed 10 workers, and four were electrocuted when equipment hit power lines. Three workers were hit by construction vehicles, two died in cave-ins and two workers were killed by falling objects.
Craig Lowry, chief of enforcement for MOSH, fears that safety is taken for granted at many work sites. "People will say, 'I stood on the top of that stepladder and nothing happened to me,' or, 'I worked in a trench without grading and nothing happened to me.' A lot of people said that and they aren't here to say it anymore," says Lowry.
MOSH welcomes complaints from workers about safety infractions and says every one is investigated, provided the complaint is made in writing, gives sufficient detail and is signed. The agency guarantees that the worker's identity will be kept confidential.
Judging by MOSH citations, safety training is lacking in the construction industry.
Carpentry Contractors of Adamstown was fined $550 for failing to instruct employees about proper safety techniques after Benjamin Ingle 3rd, 22, of Rockville, was electrocuted last Oct. 3 at a work site in Bethesda. He and other workers were moving trusses with a crane, and the crane hit a power line.
Nine days later, Carroll Hinson, 42, of Montrose, Va., was working on the new courthouse building in Upper Marlboro when he fell 20 feet from a scaffold. He was not wearing a safety belt. His employer, Wilcox Caulking Corp., was fined $750 for not having a fall protection program and for not instructing employees properly.
The toll at construction sites has continued this year. Joan Para of Crofton lost her 21-year-old son, Brian, a plumber's apprentice who was killed in a trench cave-in.
The mother says she frequently cautioned him about the dangers of working in trenches, but Brian always reassured her. "He said, "There's no hole I can't get out of.' "
On March 19 he was sent into a 12-foot-deep excavation to connect a pipe. The trench collapsed and he was killed.
His mother's grief exploded in outrage when she learned of MOSH's finding that the trench had not been adequately supported or sloped to prevent a cave-in. She is credited with almost single-handedly reviving a bill in the last days of the General Assembly that greatly increased the penalties for employers found jeopardizing the safety of workers.
Starting in January, penalties for MOSH violations will increase seven-fold, from $1,000 to $7,000 for a first offender, and from $10,000 to $70,000 for a repeat offender.
The Evening Sun review of the 61 fatal accidents shows that 17 deaths, or 28 percent, occurred in industrial plants. Falling was the leading cause of death and produced five fatalities. The other victims were crushed or mangled by equipment, electrocuted, overcome by toxic gas,hit by a falling object or killed in an explosion.
The industrial workplace with the most fatalities was Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s Sparrows Point plant. Four men died there -- two Bethlehem workers and two repair workers employed by other companies. One of the victims was Raymond Pritts, 53, a Bethlehem employee who on Aug. 17 was electrocuted by a faulty toaster in the lunchroom, according to MOSH.
Pritts had his foot against the metal of an air conditioner when his hand touched the toaster. Bethlehem was fined $5,000 and is contesting the penalty.
The review of MOSH case files shows that 10 workers were killed in non-industrial, non-construction vehicular accidents. The men were hit while working on foot along roadways, or they were run over when their own vehicles overturned at landfills or other work sites.
In addition, three workers died at auto-repair shops. One fell into a pit, another was crushed while repairing a truck engine and the third man died when the tire he was fixing exploded.
In one case, a misstep just five feet above the ground proved fatal. At a work site in Baltimore, a 62-year-old man was walking on a scaffold at that height. He tripped over a cross piece, fell off and was fatally injured.
MOSH sometimes finds that workers contribute to their own deaths by ignoring safety. A 31-year-old truck driver was fatally injured when his loaded truck overturned in Timonium. MOSH found that he was speeding and was not wearing a seat belt. His employer was not cited in connection with the fatality.
In another case, a 40-year-old man fell 19 feet to his death from the forks of a forklift at a factory in Baltimore. MOSH learned that he had refused to wear a safety belt on the job and had a history of unsafe work practices. The company was not fined.
About 10 percent of the time, neither the worker nor the employer is to blame for a fatal accident, MOSH says.
That was the finding in the death of a 22-year-old employee of a landscaping company who was hit by a car while spraying
pesticides in the median strip of Interstate 70 near New Market. The driver of the car had fallen asleep.
Another victim of a sleepy motorist was a 37-year-old truck driver who was struck and killed on Interstate 95 in Abingdon. The trucker had stopped to make repairs.
In some cases, death results from a tragic chain of events for which no one is at fault.
On Jan. 9 of last year, Edwin Croker, 46, of Randallstown, was operating a dump truck in Timonium. He got out of the cab to check the load, slipped, fell into the path of a front end loader and was killed. His employer did not violate any law, MOSH says.