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Port of Tacoma shut down after second worker death in a month at a port terminal

Post by John Gillie / The News Tribune on March 25, 2013 at 10:15 am with No Comments »
March 25, 2013 4:09 pm

The Port of Tacoma halted all operations Monday morning after another longshore worker died at a port terminal.

The worker’s death was the second this month at a Port of Tacoma terminal.

Results from the Pierce County Medical Examiner’s office examination  show the worker, Dana Gorham,  died of natural causes about 8 a.m. Monday morning while working at the port’s APM Terminal.  That report said the 57-year-old Gorham had an enlarged heart and died of heart disease.

Earlier this month, a 46-year-old crane mechanic, Jeff Surber of Bonney Lake, died atop a crane he was maintaining at Pierce County Terminal.  The medical examiner’s report said Surber died of blunt force trauma to the head.

After both deaths, longshore union workers walked off the job, closing down port activities.  The port is scheduled to reopen at 8 a.m. Tuesday.

Longshore Union Local President Scott Mason said it is the union’s custom to halt work after a death on the waterfront both out of respect for their fellow worker and because they are concerned about safety.

“There are some who say that it is unsafe for us to work just after one of our brothers has died,” said Mason, “because we might not be able to focus clearly on our work.”

Mason said he’s unsure what happened in Gorham’s incident, but the union is now leaning toward the death being natural.

The death at first had appeared to be work-related, but initial investigations point toward a heart problem as the cause of death.

Work would not have been halted if the death was clearly a natural event and not an industrial accident.

According to port sources, Gorham was working from a 5-foot-tall ladder when the incident occurred.  An electrical cable was nearby.   Initial reports said he fell from the ladder.  Other reports said he may have been shocked. Gorham was a refrigeration mechanic.

The union, Gorham’s employer, Pacific Coast Crane Co., and the state’s Department of Labor and Industries all are planning investigations.

Gorham, who lived in Spanaway,  is married with one 25-year-old son.

He was employed by Pacific Coast Crane Maintenance Co., said longshore officials. That’s the same company that employed the worker who died March 12.

An investigation into that earlier death is already underway by the union, the company and the state.

There were no ships at the APM Terminal Monday and no ships at the Pierce County Terminal where the previous death had happened. At Washington United Terminals, one of the port’s busiest, a lone containership awaited loading, but no cranes and no container handling equipment was active.

Mason said longshore workers will work extra shifts if necessary to get the ships back on schedule.  They receive no pay for the hours they didn’t work Monday.

Shipping lines should be able to get their vessels back on schedule, said by increasing their steaming speed across the Pacific.  Many shipping lines nowadays set their speed at a slow pace to save fuel.  Increasing that speed on a multi-day Pacific crossing will allow them to make up for lost time.

Labor and Industries spokeswoman Elaine Fischer said an investigator is gathering facts on the APM Terminal incident. If the death was clearly brought on by natural causes, there will be no detailed investigation.

Meanwhile, the department is still looking into Surber’s death. Fischer said such investigations typically require about two months   to complete.


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