Saturday, October 10, 2009


I try to talk about my friend Wiley whenever I train equipment operators who work at solid waste facilities. It's not easy, because I feel tremendous guilt about his tragic death. But I don't want anyone to make the same mistake I made, so I put it out there as often as I can. Years after I left the company, he slipped and fell one day getting out of a tractor while working at a landfill in California. He was horribly killed. Skip watched it happen. I remember the first time I talked to Skip after it happened. Shook up doesn't even begin to describe it. I respected his grief too much to have asked him for details. To the best of my knowledge, Wiley was exiting the dozer, and it went into reverse, and he slipped on the tracks, and got carried underneath. How many times had I seen him jump down off of the tracks of a dozer? I spoke to him about it, sure, but he didn't work for me. He worked for one of the corporate big-shots, and never hesitated to bring it up. Nevertheless, even though whenever he was working on my site it was on a temporary project, he was on my site, and safety was my responsibility on my site.
He was an incredible operator. He would build roads, cut ditches, cover slopes, and excavate ponds with Skip, and together they would do the work of four skilled operators. And he would take chances. I saw him fail to use three point contact, leave equipment running after exiting, exit machinery without engaging the parking brake or lowering the bucket or blade, and generally beat the hell out of the heavy equipment he operated. I spoke to him about it, sure, but he laughed it off. Had any of my operators operated in that fashion, it would have been one, two, three strikes and you're out. But not so with Wiley. When I shared my guilty feelings with Skip, he told me to forget it. He had been operating for 40 years before he ever met you, he told me. Nothing you could have done would have changed what happened that day. I will never know.