IN 1990 AND the first half of '91, 61 workers lost their live while earning a living in Maryland.
They were killed at construction sites, in factories and under the wheels of their own work vehicles. They died from falls, electrocutions, explosions and falling objects.
"We're still killing people at an alarming rate on the job in Maryland," says Henry Koellein Jr., state commissioner of labor and industry.
Martin Collins was killed when he was caught in a paper shredder. Raymond Pritts was electrocuted by a defective toaster in a factory lunchroom. And Glen Fahy was buried in a cave-in.
George Carroll died in a fireworks explosion. Benjamin Ingle 3rd was electrocuted when a crane hit a power line. Carroll Hinson fell to his death from a scaffold. And Edwin Croker was run over by a front-end loader.
Despite the variety of ways workers died, there is one tragic conclusion: Simple precautions by employers and workers could have prevented 90 percent of the fatalities, says the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health agency.
An Evening Sun review of MOSH case files for fatal accidents and related safety violations during the last year and a half shows that:
* Many cases still are under investigation or are being contested. But in the 32 fatalities in which MOSH has cited companies and imposed fines, the average amount was $3,165. The lowest fine was $70 and the highest, $29,600.
* In a majority of these cases -- 18 of 32 -- the violations involved not having a worker safety program or failing to train workers properly.
* Sometimes the victims contributed to their own deaths -- by disregarding safety instructions, refusing to wear protective equipment or by consuming alcohol.
All of the 61 victims were men; the average age was about 38. The youngest was 19; the oldest 65. Construction sites and industrial plants produced the most fatalities.
Forty deaths occurred in 1990. About 47,000 other workers were luckier that year. They were hurt in workplace accidents and lost at least one day's work due to their injuries.
The death toll has accelerated in 1991. So far, 21 people have been killed, even though there were fewer workers on the job due to the recession. The number of injuries is not known.
MOSH officials are at a loss to explain why the spring of 1991 was one of the deadliest they've ever seen. In the last few years, the number of workplace fatalities has fluctuated between 35 and 40 a year. In 1989, MOSH investigated 35 worker deaths.
One of 1990's youngest victims was Glen Fahy, 22, of Forestville, who on March 8 was helping construct an interlocking retaining wall at the entrance to a construction site in Anne Arundel County. Suddenly, the wall of earth above the workers began to crumble. They scrambled to escape but Fahy and another man were trapped in dirt and mud up to their waists.
Frantically, workers tried to help them, but more of the earth gave way, this time burying Fahy completely. By the time rescue workers got to him, he was dead. Two co-workers escaped with injuries.
Their employer, Crib-Lock Retaining Wall Inc. of Annandale, Va., was fined $650 for failing to properly plan the support system, failing to have daily inspections on the site and not training workers properly.
Four days after Fahy died, Martin Collins, 37, of Westminster, was working at the McGregor Printing Corp. in his home town. A conveyor belt was feeding paper into a shredder but the machine became clogged. As he had done many times in the past, Collins climbed onto the belt and tried to clear the jam. But this time, something went wrong. The belt started and Collins was pulled into the shredder and cut to pieces.
McGregor Printing was fined $1,340 for having faulty equipment and no training program.
L Even long-time employees are not immune to lapses in safety.
George Carroll, 64, of Chestertown, had worked 26 years at the New Jersey Fireworks plant in Elkton, but he may have triggered the explosion that killed him last July 12.
Workers are not supposed to wear or take anything into the plant that might cause a spark. But Carroll had a butane lighter and some coins in his pocket and was wearing a belt with a metal buckle. Normally he left the lighter in his truck. But that day, for some reason, he had slipped the lighter into his pocket under his protective overalls.
Though the exact cause of the explosion could not be determined, the company was fined $740 because Carroll had the dangerous personal items.
The Evening Sun review of fatalities shows that the most dangerous type of work was construction, which claimed 21 lives during the last year and a half, or 34 percent of the total of 61, even though construction employees account for just 9.5 percent of Maryland's overall work force.
Of the construction deaths, falls killed 10 workers, and four were electrocuted when equipment hit power lines. Three workers were hit by construction vehicles, two died in cave-ins and two workers were killed by falling objects.