A New York City Housing Authority worker working in a “dangerous workplace” died on the job. Initially, the death of NYCHA caretaker Toni Jackson, 31, was ruled an accidental fall. The New York Daily News (4.6.15) now reported that she may have been “whacked by a jury-rigged trash hoist with a history of dangerous malfunctions.”
Her death was most likely preventable. Employers must communicate dangers in the workplace to workers in order to protect them. Workers who work around or use hazardous machinery, or both, need to know how to handle the risks.
Jackson, 31 was found on March 7 in a trash-sorting room at the Coney Island Houses in Brooklyn. Initially, investigators from the New York Police Department said they thought Jackson had died in an accidental fall based partially on their finding her with severe head trauma.
Teamsters Local 237, which represents 8,000 NYCHA workers, did their own investigation and found evidence that contradicted the NYPD theory. They said maintenance failures may have contributed to the death. According to the New York Daily News, an internal union report said Jackson “was found in a squatting position with her head and neck inside the archaic hoisting device used to haul trash from the basement to the ground floor.” The union would not definitively say whether the hoist system contributed to Jackson’s death “until more information is available.”
However, the report did say, “We can state unequivocally that these deficiencies create a dangerous workplace.”
The hoisting device’s problems were well documented, said the New York Daily News, citing an internal NYCHA report. Apparently, the hoist was repaired seven times since 2010, including one instance in which it was welded “to prevent it from falling down.” An August report noted the hoist had been “damaged.”
Workers reported that the device at times would spontaneously reverse direction while in operation, then drop suddenly without warning. Other workers said they sometimes used a stick to bang on the hoist until it fell. Investigators are looking into the possibility that the heavy hoist got stuck and then hit Jackson’s head when she tried to move it. The medical examiner’s office will rule on the cause of Toni Jackson’s death.
Tragically, it was also said that Jackson did not have the proper training to operate the hoist safely. Jackson’s sister, also a NYCHA caretaker, said in the NYDN that she and her sister had had the same training and neither of them were properly trained in hoist operation.
“We were never trained in a hoist. We never seen a hoist,” she said. Jackson’s sister also said that Toni had a weak heart and had been put on light duty, another reason she should not have been assigned to haul trash.
Toni Jackson’s death orphaned her two children, ages 8 and 11. Her dependent children can recover weekly death benefits via a workers’ compensation claim, since their mother was killed on the job. Cold comfort for the children who have lost their mother.