All that the industry can bear? - Mark Bell

Let me tell you about my May 2nd and 3rd. Bear with me. It's true.

May 2nd: Appeared in Federal Court to answer a subpoena by Tribune Attorney Timothy Fair as a witness in a case involving a request by IBEW 1228.  IBEW was seeking information about Tribune's safety policies, their right within the collective bargaining agreement, and Tribune's denial of giving them more than a few documents.  It seems as if statements I made in newspaper "broadcast professional"  regarding Tribune Senior Labor Counsel James Kulas either being "ignorant or lying" when he stated ENG technicians at Boston's WLVI were in compliance with "all" OSHA regulations angered the now registered "witness" in the proceedings, Mr. Kulas.

Tribune's assertion was that I was working in cooperation with the union Business Manager to disparage Tribune and its employees using the information given IBEW. Of course it was noted that there were never requests by Tribune to classify the documents as private, proprietary, or restricted. All along it was stated that Tribune had little reason to have me involved, but the judge, being more than fair, no pun intended, allowed Tribune every chance to show complicity where there was none.

Kulas and Fair also both stated that they felt OSHA requirements CFR 1910.268 which I, and numerous knowledgeable authorities have cited as relevant in education and training, was not relevant as it does not specifically mention ENG trucks. The union also asked for information using this readily accessible and easily complied with dictum. Remember, this is from a corporation who's Senior Labor Counsel wrote about obeyance of "all" OSHA regulations.  CFR 1910.268 was used in citations to WOI in the Kimberly Arms/David Bingham accident. It was used in OSHA citations in the WABG death of Andrew Austin. It's compliance was asked of the Chief Engineer of a Pennsylvania station  after a mast/powerline accident injured two. It's use is as real as "ignorance and lying." Ask OSHA. I have.

When it was agreed this author would testify, as a last resort for their futile efforts, it wasn't Fair, pun intended, who did the questioning, it was "witness," all of a sudden turned Counsel, Kulas, somewhat feeding into the speculation that my subpoena was a sham to get me back for the "ignorant or lying" comment.  Kudos for the Judge in giving them every chance.

Bear with me. It's true.

I left the courthouse after the judge's predicted release, as he was not convinced of Tribune's point of view more than 5 hours after it's start.  The determination of whether all of Tribune's actions will raise the bar on broadcasting, employee safety, and protection of the general public or lower it is somewhat predictable. If they win, others lose. If they lose, the union gets information which could have been phoned in for about a millionth of the expense of the Kulas/Fair debacle. Lose lose lose lose lose....all seems to look the same after a while.

Bear with me. It's true.

Please note the lose, lose, lose, lose, lose line.

May 3rd.

Opened e-mail containing information from a wonderful source telling me about a Washington crew sticking a mast up into a 230kV power circuit line and grounding 115kV through a van, seriously scorching it, the night before. Three are injured, two having been Med-Flighted from the Alexandria Police Headquarters location.  One victim was reportedly standing next to his camera, which exploded towards his head and the side of his face.

Another source told me the parking lot is a clear area, well-lit, with "huge" and "scary" power lines going across. Other stations were there, too. There's video. "I remember that death, what was it, a few years ago? '94, 95? That was at the old-town courthouse," the source said. "The new courthouse that replaced that is right here, too; Scary."

The truck involved belonged to WTTG, a Fox station. Fox used to have a wonderful safety manual on the web, http://www.fox5atlanta.com/ENG, written by Andy Funk, with web space generously provided by WAGA-TV.  I've been in front of thousands of people and so many have told me they have downloaded the Funktastic manual. It was good, short, concise, and probably made some people at Fox very proud to have it up there. In the minds of Fox's Corporate Attorney's, it was probably too much of a potential liability risk for Fox to keep up there. So Fox pulled it down. I'm being positive and presumptuous when I state that, as the other point is that maybe they just didn't care about employees or their safety.

Funk told me shortly after the site was pulled about a year ago that the site was "Closed for Renovations." They were reviewing it. I wasn't too positive back then, especially after I sought to speak with Fox counsel regarding why they did it. Nobody ever answered nor returned my calls. They knew why I was calling because I said it to the person who answered the phone in no uncertain terms. It's easy.

Bear with me. It's true.

In this position all I, and others concerned could do, since we're not listened to as legal counsel is in the TV world, was hope nobody would get bit from lack of training. So many know what goes on out there. We could just hope nobody would be killed, as were Tierney, Battle, Austin, Johnson, or be forever physically and psychologically altered such as Hayford, Nelson, Crosby, Vance, Bingham, Shirk and too many others have been.

Fox's pulling of the page did nothing for the industry. You see, there's never been a lawsuit, ever, regarding the posting of safety information on the web for ENG. Their action may be difficult to separate from the fact that the accident could have easily produced a fatality, maybe a few, if it were not for luck. It also may have created the possibility of a willful negligence charge against the company; Reckless endangerment. If a fatality occurred it may have produced charges which could result in jail time and/or millions of dollars in fines for those responsible for being negligent. I'm not a lawyer, so I don't know. But I know what luck is, and Fox is lucky. Three employees parked in their truck and didn't look up.

The judge in Kulas's case couldn't understand how it could happen; He felt it was so simple to prevent. That day hadn't ended when this tragedy occurred.

You see, we have to be doing this all backwards when regulations which have been proven to save lives are disregarded in most contemptuous fashion, as Tribune has done. Then there is the case where Fox had the ability to promote safety on a website, and stopped doing it. I'm sure they stopped doing it internally as well. I'm not out on a limb when I say this; Remember, I have good sources, and as of May 2nd, valid proof. Three educated and trained professional people working together don't stick masts into 230,000 volt circuits in a city where a technician immolated himself with 19,900. They didn't know what they know now, and many could have told them the lesson they didn't need to experience to learn.

Bear with me, it's true.

In two days I have lived through events which may end up to be a tree's worth of paper of legal documents produced by a group of corporate adults who ought to know better. There has got to be a force of strength somewhere in this business which is used to raise the bar up a notch instead of lowering it to nothing as the flesh of technical people burn and tear away, station's property is destroyed, and we endanger the public, all to broadcast the exploitation of the murder of this week's eight year old, as last week's 6 year old, Elian, is old news.

I need to apologize to Geoff Manifold, Jim Forner, and Laura Evans, those injured in Washington, DC, as well as all others who witnessed the horror, who only escaped injury due to luck, too. I can't assure them that this won't happen again to somebody else because the powers that be are more worried devoted towards ego driven litigation than their employees health and safety, and there's more aggressive butt covering happening than simply raising the bar of professionalism.  Fox CAN promote safety if they want to, and indemnify themselves at the same time. Tribune CAN make their workplaces safer, too. Having knowledge to prevent workplace accidents and endangering the public, and not using it, or being aggressive in taking sources of knowledge away without substitution may be criminal. Somebody ought to pay with something other than the damage to the flesh and careers of subordinates.

Lawyers and their corporations can make society better, and they can start anytime they want to do so. They can stand behind common sense, good faith efforts, and determination to learn what is right, and then do it.  They can start on May 3rd, 4th, or later, as they really blew it on May 2nd.

Bear with me, It's true.


Update: Judge ruled that Tribune was unfair, and ordered them to cease and desist, post the ruling in the facility, etc. Tribune appealed saying that this author is conspiring with the Union Business Manager to gain information to harm them.  It should be noted that I worked for Boston's Tribune station and evacuated their employ after less than 9 months. Tribune showed no interest in any safety information I could offer as an employee despite numerous offers to do, at union scale, what I am paid many times more to do for others concerned with employee safety. The question of their damage to my professional being remains under close observation.

Fox has reportedly ramped up their safety programs, especially at WTTG. OSHA cited and fined them originally $10,750 for clearance violations and lack of education and violations the Alexandria incident, but the fine was lowered, as is typical, most likely due to the determination of good faith diligence by Fox or WTTG to eliminate causes of the incident in the future. The total fine ended up as $6,213.

Two other incidents of remarkable note occurred in May.

One was the incredible 5/22 accident crippling KABC reporter Adrienne Alpert in Los Angeles, the other, another 115,000 volts grounding of a KGAN truck in Cedar Rapids, IA on 5/27. Cal-OSH is investigating the KABC incident, and as of 10/00 had no information published regarding the incident on the web. IOSHA, Iowa's OSHA Program, didn't find it within their want to investigate the KGAN grounding in which the truck operator sustained serious injuries, a "divot' in his head being one, as reported by the victim in one interview.