Sunday, January 4, 2004

Rumpke workers fear for safety


Risky work: Trash collector killed, another critical in accidents

By Liz Oakes
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HARLAN TWP - Lois Finch of Milford worried for years about her son Steven, who told her about the near-misses by careless motorists at his job as a trash collector.

Saturday, her son was killed on the job by a driver who slammed into the back of a Rumpke garbage truck on Ohio 28.

The 35-year-old Mt. Orab man died instantly, police said.

[img]
This crash occured on Ohio 28 near the towns of Goshen and Blanchester Saturday morning.
(Rumpke photo)
Finch's death comes just three days after another Rumpke employee, Michael Dewey, 35, of Reading, was critically injured when a driver hit him on Princeton Road in Fairfield Township.

Rumpke workers say they can't remember the last time such an accident in Greater Cincinnati left one of their workers dead.

But they agree with a recent study ranking the garbage collection job among the most dangerous in America.

Larry Stone, director of safety at Colerain Township-based Rumpke Consolidated Companies Inc., said he's concerned about worker safety at the privately owned waste hauler, one of the largest in Greater Cincinnati with about 400 drivers.

Stone, a former trash collector himself, fears it could happen again.

"I know how aggravated people get when you're in their way," he said.

Joe Stepaniak, 36, of Springfield Township, has been driving a garbage truck for Rumpke for 18 years. He knows the risks first hand.

About a month ago, he said, he was picking up trash before dawn on Kehr Road in Oxford Township when a car zoomed by so close it ripped the garbage bag right out of his hands.

info "I was shook up all day after that happened," Stepaniak said. "Short of having a police escort, there's nothing you can do."

Stepaniak said one member of his crew, a Gulf War veteran, quit his job because he said it was too dangerous.

Garbage collectors rank third on the list of the riskiest jobs in the United States, according to a 1999 study by the Center for Solid and Hazardous Waste Management and the University of Miami in Florida.

According to the study, trash collectors average 90 deaths for every 100,000 workers each year, behind fishing (178 deaths) and timber-cutting (156 deaths).

Saturday, Steven Finch, 35, was loading trash into the back of his truck about 5:50 a.m. on Ohio 28 near Morrow-Woodville Road when he was hit by a Jeep Cherokee driven by Kelly Shearer, 45, of Pleasant Plain, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

Finch leaves a wife, Tammy, and two sons, Charles, 9, and Michael, 7.

Shearer was charged with vehicular homicide, police said.

Alcohol is not considered a factor in the crash.

But police said they think Shearer's lack of sleep may have contributed to the accident. She was driving home after working her night-shift job, patrol officials said.

Dewey, a 10-year veteran with Rumpke, remained in critical condition at University Hospital on Saturday after he was hit last week by an SUV while picking up trash, officials said.

Fairfield Township police said Clifford Reed, 43, of Fairfield Township was driving a Ford Expedition over the crest of a hill on Princeton Road about 7:25 a.m. Wednesday when he saw the garbage truck.

He swerved, but it was too late - the Expedition hit Dewey and a telephone pole, police said.

"It's so hard," Lois Finch said of her son's death.

"He said it was very dangerous, the way people drive.''

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E-mail loakes@enquirer.com




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