Toni Jackson’s death on March 7, 2015 may have been the result of a faulty, makeshift trash hoist that was being used in the New York City Housing Authority building where she worked, according to a report generated by her union. We previously delved into this tragic accident and reported that the New York City Police Department suspected that Ms. Jackson, a 31-year-old single mother of 2 young children, died as a result of a work-related fall. This most recent report calls that conclusion into question.
The trash hoist is similar to ones being used at 17 other Housing Authority locations. The hoist had an alarming history of maintenance failures, including at least 7 repairs that were required over the last 5 years. On one occasion the device need to be welded to prevent it from falling down. It has been damaged, according to a report, and repaired as recently as August 2014.
The hoist is used to bring trash from the basement of the building to the first floor. It consists of a metal car attached by hook to a chain pulley that travels up and down from the basement to the first floor. The device was designed in a primitive hand drawn sketch that is unsigned and undated. There is no evidence that the person responsible for designing the makeshift hoist was qualified to do so. In fact, the Housing Authority has thus far been unable to identify the person who designed it. Amazingly, that is the case for all locations where this hoisting device is being used.
There are many reports of problems with this particular hoisting device. A hook responsible for holding up the chain was duct taped to keep it closed. The on-off switch in the basement was covered with tape so the hoist could only be operated from the ground floor. The hoist was devoid of any warning or fail safe devices. Even more alarming, the New York City Housing Authority has conceded that there were no maintenance or inspection systems in place to monitor this device or any of the other hoist used by this massive agency. This is a staggering admission.
Investigators continue to pursue leads as to how and why this happened. They are looking into the possibility that the large hoist got stuck and then slammed into Toni Jackson had when she tried to move it. That may sound far-fetched until you consider some of the other complaints related to this hoist. The hoist unquestionably has a dangerous history. Workers reported that the hoist would sometimes reverse directions without warning while it was in operation. They also complained that it would drop precipitously, again, without any notice. On other occasions workers said they had to use a stick to prompt the hoist to move. What also seems clear is that there was no training in place for workers to have an understanding of what it meant to work with a hoist. This is alarming for an agency that is so vast.
While there are many questions that remain unanswered, the union report is clear about one thing, they state “unequivocally that these deficiencies create a dangerous work place.” The loved one’s Toni Jackson, I’m sure, are anxiously awaiting a definitive report on how they lost someone they so deeply care about. This fatal accident appears to be one that was both senseless and prevent. They certainly are entitled to answers.
Perhaps there is some good that comes out of this tragedy. Maybe the New York City Housing Authority places a much needed focus on worker safety. Maybe this results in greater training and supervision. It would also be a sound policy to keep records of repairs and maintenance for dangerous devices like this hoist. People would be dumbfounded if that type of thing happened at a large corporation. When a machine shows that it can’t be safely trusted then it needs to be replaced. This is just plain, common sense. There seems to be no good reason why this hoist remained on-site. Similarly, the agency should get out of the caveman era and have things designed in a safe way by qualified personnel. The notion that they have no idea who prepared it and that it was designed in a hand drawn sketch is frightening. Maybe the lesson moving forward is that worker safety, when appropriately emphasized, can save lives. May Toni Jackson rest in peace.
Block O’Toole & Murphy is a law firm committed to fighting on behalf of injured workers and their families. Our results, including recovering more than $850,000,000 for our clients, speak for themselves. You may learn more about us by reviewing our website at www.blockotoole.com.