A tragic drunk-driving accident that left a road worker paralyzed highlights the need for the federal Highway Worker Safety Program. The worker’s family finds little solace in the fact that the driver was recently sentenced to 10 years in the case.
According to court records, Sandra Yusczak-Bunge, a nurse from Bellwood, Illinois, pled guilty to driving under the influence and causing great bodily harm when she struck a construction worker. Roberto Chavez was working the night shift on a busy Illinois tollway.
ustice took more than 2 years in this case. On June 25, 2005 Yusczak-Bunge drank a bottle of wine at a friend’s house, then climbed into her white Ford Explorer and took the Illinois Tollway home at about 1 a.m.
Yusczak-Bunge was traveling east on I-88 near Naperville Road in DuPage County, Illinois when she veered into a lane closed for roadwork. Yuczak-Bunge continued in the clearly marked closed lane, ignoring barricades for more than a mile before she ran over a road worker, according to witness Jamie Wolgenuth of Lombard.
Yuczak-Bunge fled the scene, despite attempts to flag her down by other construction workers. A driver who witnessed the accident dialed 911. As Yuczak-Bunge sped off, the driver followed her. Yuczak-Bunge took the next exit and drove through a number of business parking lots on busy Ogden Avenue. Meanwhile, the other driver stayed in contact with the 911 operator and reported the Ford Explorer’s location until Yuczak-Bunge was stopped by the Illinois State Police.
When she was stopped, Yuczak-Bunge told officers that she had left the tollway to get a cup of coffee. She claimed that she was unaware she had hit anyone—she said that she felt the impact but thought she had struck a traffic barrel. Her blood alcohol content was 0.19, more than twice the Illinois limit of .08.
Yuczak-Bunge’s car hit Roberto Chavez, a 49-year old road worker and father of four. Chavez was left severely disabled. The victim’s wife, Ana Maria Chavez, wept in open court as an impact statement was read on her behalf. More than two years later, Roberto Chavez remains in a Downers Grove nursing home suffering from traumatic brain injuries. His right side is paralyzed. Chavez is unable to speak or walk. He cannot recognize his wife or children. His doctors say any improvement is unlikely.
According to Judge Kathryn Cresswell, Yuczak-Bunge would probably never have been apprehended without the cooperation of that alert driver. “Except for a citizen, she almost got away with it. Our society demands caution in construction zones. These are dangerous jobs. Anyone that drives in a tollway construction zone always sees plenty of warning signs.”
This was not the nurse’s first offense. Yusczak-Bunge had previously been sentenced to court supervision for a 1989 drunk driving arrest. The fact that the convicted drunk driver is a nurse dedicated to ease suffering is the ultimate irony.
“She knew better,” Assistant State’s Attorney Liam Brennan said, “She was a nurse who worked at a hospice and she missed that 1989 wake-up call.” Under state sentencing guidelines, Yusczak-Bunge could have received up to 12 years. She will be required to serve at least half of the 10-year sentence in jail, but be eligible for parole in 5 years, with good behavior.
A contrite Yusczak-Bunge apologized to the family in court and vowed to participate in MADD – Mother’s Against Drunk Driving – after her release. “Maybe I can spare another family from your horror,” she said. Yusczak-Bunge vowed to participate in Alcoholics Anonymous programs in prison. According to her defense lawyer, she has attended 3 AA meetings per week for the past year, while under home confinement.
The number of injured highway construction workers each year totals 20,000. Of those, many die. A federal campaign is aimed at preventing these terrible accidents.
“Employees who work in highway zones have one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States and these employees need not only OSHA’s support, but the support of everyone who gets behind the wheel on a daily basis,” according to Edwin G. Foulke Jr., Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA. He added, “There were nearly 1,100 work zone fatalities last year — that is a tragedy.”
Since the main cause of death to highway workers in the US is acute trauma that happens at work, getting drivers to slow down and pay attention to warning signs in work areas is vital. Work zone accidents claim the lives of many drivers each year, as well. Highway workers face the very real danger of being struck by a car, truck, or piece of construction equipment. To increase driver awareness of highway construction workers, OSHA recommends that all highway workers wear vests that are highly visible and reflective. This story is just one example of the importance of those safety measures.
Yesterday, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich signed a bill that will ban smoking in almost all workplaces throughout the state effective January 1, 2008. With the bill, Illinois joins 16 states that have already made smoking illegal in the workplace.
Non-smokers hail this as a seminal event for the health and well-being of workers, while smokers see it as a further erosion of their first amendment right to “the pursuit of happiness.” The law is aimed at preventing employees from being exposed to second-hand smoke at work.
Under current Illinois law, smoking is legal in factories, warehouses and similar places of employment that are not usually open to the public. Smoking is currently acceptable in casinos, bars and private clubs. Also under the current regulations, a group or individual can rent a private room in a banquet hall or restaurant and permit smoking. Under the new law, all of that will change in January. The law will specifically ban smoking sections of bars and restaurants. It also closes a loop-hole that permitted smoking in private homes where a day-care center is operated.
The new law will NOT ban smoking in private, enclosed offices where all the workers smoke, even if non-smokers must visit the offices on occasion. Critics point to this as a major flaw in the law. The law also permits smoking in retail stores that derive at least 80% of their revenue from the sale of tobacco products. Smoking will still be permitted in enclosed personal spaces, such as private homes and personal vehicles, and in specifically designated hotel rooms.
Critics also argue that the penalties under the new law are too low, with fines of $100 to $250 to individuals for violations. Fines for businesses that violate the law start at $250.
An important feature of the new law prohibits smoking within 15 feet of any entrance or exit door in the workplace. The current Illinois Clean Indoor Air Act contains no such provision. The sight of workers braving sub-zero winter temperatures to smoke outside the door of an office or shop is very common. Workers and customers must frequently walk through a cloud of smoke blanketing the entrance, to gain access to a restaurant, store or office under the current system.
Under the Illinois Clean Indoor Air Act, smoking has been banned in most public places in the state for a number of years. That includes smoking in any indoor area used by the public, or as a place of work, including hospitals, restaurants, retail stores, offices, elevators, theaters, libraries, art museums, concert halls, schools, nursing homes, auditoriums and meeting rooms. The current law provides for smokers to be fined up to $500 for a first offense. Anyone who persists may be found in contempt of court and imprisoned for a short time, as well as fined.
The current Illinois Clean Indoor Air Act does allow for smoking in areas that are specifically posted as “smoking areas” including some areas of restaurants, bars and nursing homes. The act originally made exceptions for a number of businesses, including bowling allies, and bars. All of these areas will become off limits to smokers under the new law.
A number of counties and municipalities already have laws that prohibit smoking. Cook County, the home of Chicago and 43.3% of the state’s population, bans smoking everywhere except designated rooms in hotels and nursing homes. The county does permit municipalities to “opt out” by allowing smoking in designated sections of restaurants and bars in Rosemont and a few other areas. Other Illinois cities outside Cook County, including Normal, Illinois have banned smoking in all workplaces, even restaurants and bars.
States that currently have 100% smoking bans in workplaces include Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Washington. These states prohibit smoking in public and private workplaces regardless of size. They do not allow smoking in separately ventilated rooms in offices, factories or warehouses. The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico also has such a law. South Dakota has a similar law, but does permit smoking sections in restaurants or bars.
In addition, at least 340 municipalities nationwide ban smoking in the workplace, from Anchorage, Alaska to Laramie, Wyoming. Some of these bans permit smoking in separate sections of restaurants and bars, while most do not.
The nation’s premier worker safety organization joined forces with a national coalition recently to enhance Illinois highway worker safety. Tragically, many highway workers are killed on the job each year. In addition, 20,000 highway workers are injured annually while working on street and highway construction projects.
To help protect highway workers, OSHA has picked the first week in April each year to be the National Work Zone Awareness Week. The campaign this year, “Signs for Change,” works to remind drivers that they not only need to slow down in the safety zones set up for highway workers, but they also need to use caution in these zones.
According to Edwin G. Foulke Jr., Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, “There were nearly 1,100 work zone fatalities last year — that is a tragedy. I am hopeful that campaigns like this will help reduce those numbers.”
As part of the important effort to increase awareness of the safety zones used by highway workers, OSHA has joined forces with the Roadway Work Zone Safety and Health Partners Alliance. In addition to spotlighting the need for caution near highway safety zones, together these organizations will focus on other health-related issues that highway workers face.
Foulke went on to explain, “Employees who work in highway zones have one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States and these employees need not only OSHA’s support, but the support of everyone who gets behind the wheel on a daily basis.” He added,
When it comes to highway workers, a leading cause of fatalities at work is acute trauma. Although highway workers are struck by cars, they also suffer trauma when struck by either trucks or equipment used within the construction zone. Safety agencies, along with OSHA, recommend that all workers in the highway construction industry wear a reflective vest that can be clearly seen from a distance.
A new agreement was recently signed at the US Census Bureau. Present at the signing were Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, and the leaders from five labor unions and five contractor associations.
The new agreement involved the Illinois Drug Free Workplace Alliance that has been recently expanded to help raise awareness about the impact of substance abuse on the workforce. It highlights Chao’s commitment to working with unions and contractor associations to protect the safety and health of their workers.
The unions present at the signing are members of the Drug-Free Workplace Alliance. Representatives were there from the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Asbestos Workers, the International Union of Operating Engineers, the Laborers’ Internationals Union of North America, the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, and the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry.
The new program also offers information to help workforce development professionals assist those with drug or alcohol problems, and information on how businesses can create drug-free workplace programs to protect the safety of their workers.
Drug and alcohol abuse is responsible for many fatal accidents in the workplace, according to the OSHA. Besides accidents, the US Dept. of Labor also says that substance abuse is very costly for businesses in other ways. It causes increased absenteeism, low employee morale, higher illness rate and a higher rate of errors.
Business owners have the power to prevent unnecessary dangers and expenses associated with drug or alcohol abuse. The best way to do this is by educating employees about the dangers and encouraging individuals with alcohol and drug problems to seek help. Some companies that are currently part of the alliance have chosen to use random drug testing or pre-employment drug screen in the substance abuse prevention programs.
The US Dept of Labor says that only by addressing drug and alcohol abuse among the entire workforce, both those currently employed and those preparing to enter employment, can a drug-free American workforce be achieved.
Perhaps you’ve never wondered if your workplace has a plan for an influenza pandemic.
If not, it should, according to a recent Illinois OSHA alert. Employers and workers should be aware of the workplace emergency plans. However, a new OSHA alert is recommending that along with those other plans, contingencies should be in place for the possibility of a flu pandemic. Such a pandemic, according to OSHA – the Occupational Safety and Health Administration – could have worldwide economic impacts, on a scale greater than any single terrorist attack.
There are also personal measures that can be taken in the event of a pandemic, similar to those taken during any flu or cold season. They involve washing hands frequently, using a hand sanitizer; keeping a distance of 6 feet from those who are infected; and covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze, while taking care to use a disposable tissue.
The last large scale influenza outbreak was in 1918-20. The outbreak was known as the “Spanish Flu” only because newspapers in Spain wrote extensively about the disease. In other countries, the press was heavily controlled by censorship because of the war, and word about the flu was not publicized to the same extent. It started at a military base in Kansas and quickly spread worldwide, killing 50 million people in a year and a half, including healthy young adults. Within days of getting the illness, many died.
Among the victims were numerous healthy young adults who died within dies of coming down with the influenza. It was named the “Spanish Flu,” not because it started in Spain but because Spanish newspapers wrote about it extensively.
Such an outbreak is nothing like our seasonal influenza, usually thought of as an unpleasant but not dangerous event. Usually, because we have developed an immunity, seasonal flu is not life threatening except for small children, the aged, or people with weakened immune systems.