Saturday, June 25, 2011

One Year Later – Death at Commerce City Golf Course

By Editor Kathy McIntyre

One year ago, a Commerce City employee died from injuries sustained at the Commerce City Golf Course, Buffalo Run. After the fatal accident, the Gateway News requested and was granted a copy of the Commerce City police report, the safety audit that was done by an outside agency and a report done by Pinnacol Assurance.

First let’s look at the facts. Tuesday, July 13, 2010, Commerce City Police Officer Chris Dickey was directed to go to the Buffalo Run Golf Course to investigate a city employee injury there. When Dickey arrived, he was told that the employee, James Bohling, had been transported by ambulance to Denver Health Medical Center for treatment of his injuries. Bohling died from his injures the next day, listed as “traumatic crush injuries” by the doctor, with his wife and daughter at his side.

Based on the police report this “accident” occurred when Bohling, a Buffalo Run Golf Course employee, started his tractor, a John Deere model 1070, to let it idle and warm up in the east parking lot of the maintenance building. Bohling was not on the tractor as the tractor started to move forward, catching Bohling underneath and dragging him for about 90 feet. He was conscious and was able to describe what happened before he was taken to the hospital. The John Deere website lists the weight of this tractor at 3,265 pounds, without a mowing attachment, which Bohling’s tractor had attached to it.

Officer Dickey went back to the golf course on July 14 to investigate further and to speak with other employees. He found out that other employees had routinely done the same thing that Bohling had done, started their tractors without being on the seat and in control of the machinery. Side note here, the tractor that killed Bohling also ran into a vehicle in the parking lot, which in turn ran into another vehicle. A parking lot where golf course patrons, citizens, and other employees walk about.

Why would a tractor with several safety devices move forward on its own with no operator in the seat? The safety seat switch had been disabled, the wires cut. With the wires intact, the tractor will not start and cannot be put in gear, without an operator sitting on the seat. That is what was wrong here. A safety device had been disabled, but not just on this one tractor, Officer Dickey found the same situation on the tractor that was sitting right next to Bohling’s. And the employee interviewed by Dickey had stated that this was a routine procedure for all the employees.

Bryan Kayser, who was hired in January 2010 at Buffalo Run Golf Course to do maintenance, was quoted as saying that when he was hired “the fleet of machines and vehicles was in desperate need of repair and maintenance”. He went on to say, “The vehicles had safety mechanisms that were not working correctly, mowers that did not cut as they were supposed to, and machines that needed to be tuned up. He said that he had spent several days and had exhausted a “large portion of his budget” to bring the vehicles up to proper operating standards, to include the safety seat mechanisms on several units. When asked about the tractor that Bohling was using, Kayser said “he never looked under the operator seat for the safety switch, as he had no need to”. (?)

Last September 29, 2010, Pinnacol Assurance made a site visit to the golf course and left six full pages of “corrective actions” (22 in all) that involve everything from personal safety gear that employees should be wearing to signage to ventilation to how chemicals should be stored but not a word about the safety of tractors or their operation. When the city was asked about this, the Gateway was told that Pinnacol would rely on the city to be using the manuals and instructions and warnings that came from the tractor manufacturer, that would be John Deere. So I called John Deere, and of course they told me that the wires for the safety seat switch should never under any circumstance be disabled or wires cut. I also asked the city if the Pinnacol Assurance rates had been increased due to the fatal accident, they said they would get back to me with that information, but they never did as of today.

On October 13, 2010, the city paid for a “safety audit” at the golf course and this was done by a firm named McFadden and Associates, LLC out of Lakewood, Colorado. They say they are “Consultants in Safety, Health, and Industrial Hygiene”. Again, a six page document was given to the city with numerous recommendations but no word about the tractor safety. They did observe that when employees were working in the dark that the tractors had headlights but the golf carts didn’t, so they should get “bigger flashlights” and that the emergency brake was not working on a golf cart after two work orders had been submitted, but that the golf cart was still being used by employees.

City governments are not under the watchful eye of OSHA standards but I was told that Commerce City looks to OSHA for guidance. I was also informed by the city that they are “working towards” repairing things and following the guidelines set out in the two reports. I was told that they are “doing our best to ensure safety for all of our employees and patrons” and that there are more ongoing reminders to employees daily about safety.

Immediately following the accident, the city “got rid” of the tractor that was responsible for James Bohling’s death. I tend to think it really was not the tractor’s fault; the tractor was designed and built with safety features that a human being, some human being, had tampered with, disengaged and intentionally cut wires on, and directly caused the death of someone.

You might ask who from outside of Commerce City investigated this to hold someone, anyone accountable. The answer would be no one. And when the city was asked this question, we were told there was no reason to have an outside investigation. Commerce City Police Officer Chris Dickey did a very good thorough investigation, but the end result is that no one was held accountable.

What would have happened if it had not been a city employee who had been killed but rather an elected official or a citizen who had gone over to play golf that day? Then would the story be different? Tractors weighing over 3,000 pounds running loose on their own on a parking lot creates a lot of fear in me, as does the thought of city machinery and vehicles having safety devices disabled.

Who cut the wire that caused the death of a Commerce City employee, who was a father, husband, and fellow human being? If this wasn’t a city, but rather a private golf course under the watchful eye of OSHA, then would the outcome be different, would someone be held accountable for this death?

So who is responsible, who is supposed to be “managing” our city? I really wonder.

1 comment:

  1. Could someone from the city of Commerce City tell us where they sent the "offending" tractor? Did it go to an auction where some poor innocent buyer purchased it and could now get hurt or killed themselves since the safety switch on the seat was cut? Or did they think of that, probably not because they didn't even think of it for their own employees!