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When a man is crushed by a 36 ton machine at work we should all be concerned. Concerned for the man who lost his life and his family and concerned for anyone else who might find themselves exposed to the same risk in the future. Therefore, it was no surprise that the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union wanted to inspect the accident scene to find out answers for Jeffrey Smith's family and to protect his coworkers. When the union attempted to send their safety expert as part of their emergency response team, Mr. Smith's employer, Caterpillar, refused to allow the expert on its property. Caterpillar insisted its property rights trumped the right of the union to conduct an inspection and that the inspection was unnecessary.

The National Labor Relations Board agreed with the union and determined that Caterpillar had engaged in an unfair labor practice by violating the rights of its employees and ordered the company to allow the union's expert onto the premises for investigation. Caterpillar appealed this to the U.S. Court of Appeals and the U.S. Court of Appeals recently found that "the union's duty to attend to the safety of the employees whom it represents entitles it to insist on performing its own investigation of safety issues, rather than relying entirely on the data given it by the company."

When someone dies in the workplace it is important not to rely merely on the company's investigation as to the circumstances surrounding that death. In this instance the deceased benefited by the role of a strong union and their insistence that they be allowed an investigation by their own expert. Likewise, affiliating with a law firm that handles workplace death cases will ensure that the right experts do the right investigations as soon as possible after an accident occurs. As the court of appeals said in support of the investigation "the cost on the company would be negligible, and the benefit to the union would not be limited…might well lead to changes in the weld shop that reduce the likelihood of a future accident."

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