Count your blessings and rise refreshed


Expanded from the 12-31-2000 Sparks (Nev.) Tribune

"When I kneel to pray, if I rise refreshed, my prayers have been answered."

Recent days have been ones of thanksgiving and laughter at my house. Grandchildren have that kind of effect on an aging Baby Boomer.

In this, the Tribune's last edition of the century, I had planned to look forward with laughter about the foibles of the past. Alas, those comments must wait.

As you read this, Sparks resident Michael Farnworth lies near death after surviving a ten-story fall in front of Circus Circus Hotel-Casino last Wednesday. Farnworth, 23, an employee of Young Electric Sign Co., Inc., (YESCO) of Sparks, was performing maintenance on the huge cartoon clown which stands in front of the hotel at N. Virginia and Fifth streets in downtown Reno.

Farnworth was ascending in a basket at the end of a boom when a gear apparently sheared. The mechanical failure caused a sudden stoppage of the crane's ascent and both cherrypicker and passenger were hurled to the asphalt. Bleeding profusely, Farnworth had to be cut out of the bucket by paramedics.

Physicians at Washoe Medical Center say Farnworth suffered brain damage and other severe internal injuries causing widespread hemorrhaging. The fall shattered both of his elbows, broke a hip and many of his ribs. His spleen has been removed. He is now listed in serious condition and breathing with the assistance of respiratory apparatus. On the positive side, there has been no more swelling in his brain. His youth also increases his chances of survival.

Doctors have told the family that his progress has been better than expected given such serious injuries. Farnworth had planned to move from maintenance into his union's apprenticeship program to become a journeyman electrician, a dream now postponed.

Farnworth's local relatives include his father and mother, a brother and a fiance. Donations to help them are being collected by Elsa Olive at YESCO, 775 E. Glendale Ave., Sparks, NV 89431; (775) 359-3131. Contributions may also be left with Wendy Jones at International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 401, 2713 E. Fourth St., Reno, NV 89512; (775) 329-2566.

Please consider both a prayer and a contribution. IBEW Local 401 is coordinating with YESCO to see that Mr. Farnworth properly applies for workers compensation insurance. Notwithstanding the recently completed privatization of state injured worker coverage, Nevada's system remains a minefield of technicalities which can cost a worker any insurance coverage. Claim submission within less than one week remains critical to receiving benefits even under the new system. (Regardless of the fact that it's fairly difficult for some people to fill out a form after suffering two broken arms.)

Last Friday, I was informed that Lisa Robertson, his beleaguered fiance, in addition to the stress of seeing the man she hoped to marry laid so low, was being run ragged trying to get the right paperwork to preserve his insurance coverage.

Despite a steady stream of rosy government and industry statistics to the contrary, the United States remains the most dangerous workplace among the developed countries.

"Even based on the misleadingly rosy figures of the last few years, the U.S. rate of industrial injuries was the worst among the 15 major industrial nations studied in an AFL-CIO report," wrote Labor Notes editor Kim Moody in the monthly magazine's October 2000 edition.

"Over the last decade, changes in the economy, 'reforms' of OSHA (Occupational Health and Safety Administration), aggressive employer practices and persistent inaccuracies in statistical methods have combined to cover up the reality of workplace health and safety. The true picture is an ongoing epidemic of accidents, injuries and illnesses, both temporary and terminal, throughout the private economy," Moody asserted.

"In fatalities, the U.S. came in 10th out of 15. The U.S. rate of 5.9 deaths per 100,000 compared to 1.1 per 100,000 in Britain and the Netherlands," Moody reported.

"The U.S. came in an unlucky 13 out of 15 on the amount spent per citizen on health and safety; $1.01 in the U.S. compared to $11.36 in Norway. While Britain has one health and safety inspector for every 2,354 workers, the U.S. has one for every 54,435," Moody stated.

After an in-depth investigative report by journalist Launce Rake, the Las Vegas Sun late last year editorially called for hiring more state inspectors. Nevada's 1999 crew of 12 would need 30 years to look over every construction site in the state, according to AFL-CIO estimates.

"In 1997, the last year for which complete records are available, Nevada construction workers were 30 percent more likely to be injured than the national average, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics," Rake noted.

"In Nevada, the injury rate for people in the construction industry was 12.6 per 100 workers, third worst in the nation and significantly higher than the national average of 9.6 injuries per 100 construction workers," Rake wrote. (For complete links and news about right-wing attempts in the 2001 Nevada Legislature to eliminate the entire state safety inspection system, go to the Nov. 14, 1999, installment of this column. State Sen. Maurice Washington, R-Sparks, leads that cruel crusade.)

None of the above facts or opinions necessarily apply to the specific case of Michael Farnworth or his employer. That accident remains under investigation by OSHA officials and a full report is expected. But for Farnworth's suffering to have any value, every such tragedy must trigger review for potential improvement of every workplace.

Responses to the young man's plight have come from throughout Nevada and the nation.

Motown resident Dennis Nazelli became known to Reno-Sparks residents a few years ago when he traveled here along with other strikers from the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News, sister paper of the Reno Gannett-Journal.

After more than five years, the labor dispute was recently settled, but little risk lies in guessing that Mr. Nazelli's finances were stressed by the long struggle. Nonetheless, he's sending a contribution to Michael Farnworth's family in its hour of need.

People like Dennis Nazelli and the little ones who have recently had the run of my house fill me with hope for the future. To me, the message of today is truly one of thanksgiving — for all that we have and may become, and for all the people who bless our lives by spending a little time with us along the way.

Have a joyful and hopeful new era.

Be well. Raise hell.


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© Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano a 32-year Nevadan, is a member of Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of NevadaLabor.com. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988. Opening quote came from the film biography "Lansky" which starred Richard Dreyfuss.

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