Making sense of tragedy
An Oregon OSHA investigator's mission
By Melanie Mesaros
"You have to listen to them and have compassion," he said. "They often think our job is to punish the employer for their tragic loss. I always tell them our job is to find out what happened and take action to prevent it from happening again, but so many times, they don't hear that because they are so overwhelmed with the tragedy. It is, however, extremely important to listen carefully and develop open communications with them. They frequently provide information that is important to the investigation."
Riffe recommends that employers take the time to talk to victims' families. Open communication can go a long way, he said.
"There are many families that are skeptical about the employer. 'The employer hasn't even talked to me' is something I often hear from family members. The employer needs to show sincerity – that they really care," he said.
Riffe's passion for the job is not only evident in his in-depth investigations, but in the memorial presentations he has created to train other workers and employers. He has provided "In Memory of" workshops for companies, breaking down the details of what went wrong in real accidents, along with providing sound advice for prevention and a tribute to each lost worker.
When he gets that call, Riffe knows it's because a life has been lost. He wants to make sure the victim is never forgotten.
"I do not lose sleep over the blood and gore," he said. "I lose sleep over what caused it. I work to find out what happened and the steps necessary to prevent similar tragedies at workplaces."
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