Any heavy, movable object can be a crushed-by hazard to workers, as this bizarre case involving a Texas cemetery shows.
Guadalupe Mendoza of San Juan, Texas, was killed when a five-foot tall tombstone weighing an estimated one to two tons (2,000 to 4,000 lbs.) fell on top of him.
A couple visiting the Hillcrest Cemetery in Edinburg, Texas, saw the stone topple onto Mendoza and called police.
The 64-year-old cemetery supervisor had been using a jack and wooden plank to level the stone when it fell onto his chest. Reports say the tombstone had been tilted to one side.
An autopsy shows he suffered major internal injuries and crushing chest trauma.
The death was reported to federal OSHA.
Other cemetery hazards for workers
In 2009, federal OSHA’s Atlanta-West Area Office issued a letter outlining the hazards to cemetery workers following broadcast news footage showing the procedures used for digging and preparing graves.
It’s no surprise that the focus of the letter was on trenching hazards, including the most cited OSHA standards for excavation work:
- 1926.651: specific excavation requirements
- 1926.652: requirements for protective systems in excavations, and
- 1926.21: safety training in construction (“The employer shall instruct each employee in the recognition and avoidance of unsafe conditions and the regulations applicable to his work environment to control or eliminate any hazards or other exposure to illness or injury”).
The letter also lists these other hazards cemetery workers may encounter:
- hazardous atmospheres (for example, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, natural gas, methane from decomposing bodies, and oxygen deficient atmospheres)
- equipment hazards
- falling loads, and
- being struck by or run over by equipment (covered by OSHA’s General Duty Clause).
The letter also warns cemetery workers that being lowered into a grave by a bucket is very dangerous.
Unless you consider the tombstone in this case to be a falling load, toppled stones aren’t listed as a hazard.
Which goes to show: It’s not always the more obvious hazards that cause injuries or death.
It also shows why workers should be encouraged to perform hazard analyses before any job, especially before those which may be a little out of the ordinary.