This didn’t have to happen.
The N.C. Department of Labor has cited the city of Greensboro for a serious litany of violations that led to the death of an employee who slipped and fell in November while inside a water tower in McLeansville.
The part-time employee, Sheria Stringer, 28, plummeted 80 feet while making her way down a ladder within the 219-foot structure.
The state Labor Department, which is not known for its aggressiveness, fined the city’s Water Resources Department $26,000 for a lack of proper training and equipment. Specifically, the violations included:
The failure to train workers how to recognize and minimize hazards that could lead to someone falling inside the water tower.
A lack of adequate training in the use and inspection of safety equipment.
A lack of training in the use the ladder-safety system within the tower.
The use of a safety rope that wasn’t inspected for wear and tear.
Supplying Stringer with gloves that were too big for her and inappropriate for climbing.
“The penalties are in no way designed to make up for loss of life,” Mary Katherine Revels, a spokeswoman for the state Labor Department, wrote in an email to the News & Record. “Fines are issued to penalize the offending employer, but also to get the attention of other employers with similar work environments,” Revels said.
Stringer was making the climb as part of a program that exposes employees to different areas within Water Resources.
“An opportunity to climb the Knox Road tank was offered to departmental employees in Water Resources in September and October of 2018 as part of an initiative to allow employees to learn about various aspects of Water Resources operations,” city spokesman Jake Keys wrote in an email to the News & Record.
That certainly sounds like a worthwhile goal, but only if involves reasonable precautions to ensure employee safety — especially in the case of workers who, by the nature of the program, encounter tasks and surroundings that may be unfamiliar.
Stringer, a graduate of Guilford Technical Community College, had worked for the city since May 2016. She was an employee in Water Resources’ engineering division at the time of her death.
Meanwhile, as a workplace, the city has a positive reputation. The current city budget included an average 3 percent in merit raises for employees, and the City Council has generally tried in recent years to do right by the roughly 3,000 city workers.
Also, the idea of allowing workers to gain a broader appreciation of how their department operates sounds like a smart policy. It can build morale and teamwork and make workers more aware of other job opportunities within the city.
But never should it come at the risk of anyone’s safety.
City Manager David Parrish said in a written statement Tuesday that the city may wish to “exercise” its right to appeal the state Labor Department’s citations. We can only wonder on what basis.
To be fair, Parrish was on the site following Stringer’s death on the morning of Nov. 1 and was among those who embraced and comforted her grieving mother and other family members who were there as Stringer’s body was removed. The tragic accident deeply affected Stringer’s co-workers as well.
Yet, it seems clear that this could have been avoided.
“We never want anything like this to happen again,” the city manager said in his statement.
And never should it happen again.