HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Kevin Chambers says he never becomes jaded investigating workplace deaths, despite how many he investigates.

It might sound cliché — but he insists it’s true — that each one is as difficult as the first.

“The friends, families, neighbors — your fishing buddy, girl scout leader, somebody’s son and his daughter,” said Chambers, area director for the Harrisburg office of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). “They don’t come home from work.”

Still, when news of the region’s 20th workplace death of the fiscal year (dating back to Oct. 1, 2022) crossed his desk recently, “it was weighing on my head, weighing on my heart,” Chambers said.

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The 14 counties of OSHA’s southcentral Pennsylvania area typically average about 15 deaths in a full fiscal year, among those covered by OSHA (which are not all kinds of deaths during working hours at all kinds of employers). The 20th happened with a month and a half left in the fiscal year, which will end Sept. 30. So Chambers started typing an uncharacteristic announcement providing information about all the deaths and imploring employers to take steps to improve workplace safety.

“And while I was writing it, we had a 21st fatality,” Chambers said. “So that just drove it home even further that we need to do something a little bit out of the ordinary to get the information out there to the public.”

Five of the workers died after contracting COVID at work, according to the report.

Among the 21 deaths were two previously covered by abc27 News, about which Chambers provided more detail:

  • Regarding the early-August death of Alex Carrillo, 22, in a forklift accident at an Amazon warehouse in Carlisle: “It involved a collision of two forklifts, and then one of the employees that was working at height” — 26 feet high, according to the report released days earlier — “and ended up falling along with the forklift and striking the floor,” Chambers said.
  • Regarding the late-July death of Joseph Kelly, 59, at J&K Salvage in Spring Garden Township, York County: “In the salvage yard, there was an employee that was conducting some work on the forklift, and the forklift dislodged and ended up falling on him and crushing him,” Chambers said.

Like Chambers, York County Coroner Pam Gay said workplace deaths are often “highly preventable.”

“What we see most of the time is heavy equipment malfunction or operator error,” Gay said, often prioritizing productivity over safety: “One thing that they think is going to kind of be a shortcut, and it actually cuts out the safety elements. And that one thing can lead to a death.”

For example: “Getting under a heavy piece of equipment or maybe operating something without a belt,” Gay said.

“We’re thankful OSHA exists so that they can help us with those investigations and make recommendations on how to make it a safer workplace for people,” Gay added.

Chambers also cited missing safety equipment — “a harness, a lanyard, proper anchorage” — as being a common theme in workplace deaths.

His advice for workers?

“If something feels a little bit off — if it’s, we call it ‘dumb, different or dangerous’ — stop for a second,” Chambers said. “Evaluate what you’re doing, and say [to your employer,] ‘Wait a minute, maybe something has failed here. We need to have it fixed.'”

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He said if that doesn’t lead to action, file a complaint at osha.gov or by calling 1-800-321-OSHA (6742).

Chambers said although people often think of OSHA as an enforcement agency — investigating and fining non-compliant employers — the agency actually prefers to improve safety by working collaboratively with employers. One resource: free safety consultations offered in partnership with a university in each state. In Pennsylvania, the partner university is Indiana University of Pennsylvania.