Resource Newsletter
December 2012

Making sense of tragedy

An Oregon OSHA investigator's mission

Early in the morning or late at night, the call could come at any time for Mike Riffe, a seasoned accident investigator with Oregon OSHA. He has handled more than 250 accidents through the years, documenting the scene, analyzing machinery, recreating incidents, and interviewing employees, employers, and other witnesses to make sense of what went wrong.

Early in the morning or late at night, the call could come at any time for Mike Riffe, a seasoned accident investigator with Oregon OSHA. He has handled more than 250 accidents through the years, documenting the scene, analyzing machinery, recreating incidents, and interviewing employees, employers, and other witnesses to make sense of what went wrong.

"You see blood, gore, and ugly situations. You have to look past all of that and focus on what happened and how future incidents can be prevented," he said of his work, which can be not only emotionally charged, but also highly detailed.

Riffe came to Oregon OSHA in 1986 and worked as a safety compliance officer until 1990, when he left to manage the safety and health program at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. He returned in 2000 as an accident/fatality investigator in Portland. He has seen first hand how an accident can change a company's culture. He recalls a past case he investigated in which an employee fell through the ceiling into a cold storage cooler, suffering severe spinal damage.

"The owner of the company was devastated," Riffe said. "I made it a point to review safety and health management principles with him, as I do all employers. It took some time, but finally, his eyes lit up and he got it. They went on to become a Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program employer."

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