I Watched A Man Die Today

Grim reaper

By Phil La Duke

I watched a man die today. I was going to write this week’s post on ways to energize the workers around safety, but then I watched a man die today. I also considered writing about an ad that was turned down by H+S Magazine because it was too sexy (a safety ad that was too sexy?) but then I watched a man die today. I also considered writing some combination of the two topics, but then, as I said, I watched a man die today.

I didn’t see the accident that killed him, and truth be told I probably didn’t actually witness the 24-year old motorcyclist’s last moments. But I watched as police stood around helplessly walking in numb circles, two of them holding a large blanket in a vain attempt to block the gory view of the body from the slowly growing throng of gawkers.

I was gathering my phone, keys, and wallet and headed to get a haircut when I got a text from my stylist. There was something going on in front of the shop and traffic was a mess. So I left early to avoid being late because of the traffic. About 10 minutes later I noticed the police had stopped traffic directly in front of the salon so I took the back alleys behind the shops and wound my way to the shops parking lot. The entrance to the street was blocked with crime scene tape. I got out of my car and saw him. Sprawled on the street in a massive puddle of blood. Details are sketchy as they always are in this kind of a scene whether it be in the workplace or on the highway.   Some said the motorcyclist was speeding and weaving in and out of traffic when he struck a car that was pulling out of a private drive. Others said that the elderly driver pulled out without looking and struck the motorcyclist. Either way, two lives (and many more) were forever changed. The elderly driver will likely never drive again—in any of the scenarios I heard he will be judged at fault for failing to yield the right of way; he may even face vehicular homicide charges—but even if he is allowed to do so, he will live for the rest of his life with the knowledge that he took the life of a 24 year old.

“I was drinking in Havana, I took a little risk. Send lawyers, guns, and money; dad get me out of this.”—Lawyers, Guns, and Money, Warren Zevon.

It Only Took A Moment

The lives of two people on autopilot intersect only for a split second leaving one dying on the pavement and the other badly shaken and perhaps having a heart attack is speeding in an ambulance to the nearest hospital. Was this preventable? Was this predictable? What platitudes will ooze out of the mouths of safety practitioners in response to this? What lessons are there to be learned from this?

“Maybe you got a kid maybe you got a pretty wife, the only thing that I got’s been botherin’ me my whole life”—State Trooper, Bruce Springsteen

As I got my hair cut I my friend and stylist and I talked about the decedent; a person we didn’t know. 24 years old. Was he married? Did he have kids? What would this do to his parents? And we talked about the horror of killing him accidentally, and how we would feel if we were in his situation.

“Father McKenzie, wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave, no one was saved.”—Eleanor Rigby, The Beatles

By the time I left the salon the body had been removed, and a fireman began spraying a fire hose unceremoniously washing the copious amount of blood into a storm drain. The water quickly turned from clean white to a mottled dark red; not the crimson color you see in movies. I watched sadly for a long time, quietly mourning a person I never knew or would know.

I know that there is a lesson in all this about risk tolerance, and the fragility of life and the uncertainty of life for all of us. I wanted desperately for some good to come out of all this, something that I could share with each of you, but I just can’t summon the energy. In the days and weeks to come I will learn through news reports about the lives effected by this tragedy and maybe then I will have something meaningful to say about how all of this relates to workplace safety. But until then only one thing counts: I watched a man die today.