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Fallen Worker: Orestes Martinez, Texas

One day in April 2009, Orestes Martinez (29) and two co-workers were working at a construction site for the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, helping to install a two-ton, lead-lined door in the radiation department of the hospital. They were moving the door by hand since no lift device was available. During the installation, the door fell on Martinez, crushing him to death.

Federal OSHA investigated and cited Martinez’s employer, J.T. Vaughn Enterprises, for two serious violations. The agency proposed a penalty of $10,000 against the employer, but J.T. Vaughn Enterprises contested the citation and penalty by trying to shift the blame on to the workers. An administrative law judge withdrew one citation and reduced the penalty for the other violation to $3,500. The case closed in April 2011.

Orestes left behind a loving wife, Adriana, whose life has not been the same since her husband’s untimely death.

“Losing my husband, my best friend, my love has left an empty space in my heart. The pain is indescribable,” she wrote in a reflection piece for National COSH. “Nothing will ever be the same again, EVER. I have to learn how to live again, how to enjoy life, how to smile, how to be happy without feeling guilty, how to deal with this pain, how to deal with lonely nights. I need to learn how to face simple life situations, like the happiness of others, couples getting married and having babies, hearing about someone’s romantic dinner, knowing that they have someone to hold their hand and give them a hug when they are down, and knowing they still have someone to share their accomplishments and their life with. I am left with pain; my happiness was taken away from me in a matter of seconds.

“My life completely changed because someone put a price tag on my husband, because they did not do the right thing. I feel empty and broken. What hurts the most is that his death was preventable.

“Every day I have to fight a battle. I do not want this to happen to anyone. Although this is a long and difficult journey, I have chosen to fight in his name and for others, and to make a difference in someone’s life. My fight…his fight… has just started!”

Read other stories of fallen workers.  Learn more about Workers’ Memorial Week of Action.