Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


Five years ago, when Ron Hayes’ 19-year-old son, Patrick, was working as a grain handler at Showell Farms in De Funiak Springs, Fla., he was assigned the task of “walking down the corn”—scraping the inside walls of the grain bin. As Patrick knocked down the corn, 60 tons of it fell, suffocating him to death.

After an Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigation into Patrick’s death, agency investigators determined that Showell Farms was guilty of six “willful” safety violations and recommended that the company pay more than $500,000 in fines. But OSHA’s area director later reduced the fine to $42,000, citing a lack of clarity about whether OSHA’s standards applied.

Ron Hayes and his family learned of the reduced fines and citations from a local news broadcast—despite repeated requests to OSHA for information. “When I saw it on TV that day,” he recalls, “I was just heartbroken.”

The ordeal inspired Hayes to reform the way OSHA handles cases such as his. He quit his job as an X-ray technician and together with his wife, Dot, founded Families in Grief Hold Together (FIGHT). The group, which helps families who have had similar run-ins with OSHA, has a nationwide network of attorneys available to do pro bono work. Over the past two years, FIGHT has helped more than 300 families in 45 states.

In 1995, OSHA admitted to mishandling Patrick’s case and revised its safety standards for workers in grain elevators and mills. But Hayes has continued to push the agency: After a request for documents relating to Patrick’s death yielded only sanitized copies, Hayes sued OSHA in federal court. A U.S. District Court judge is currently reviewing all 1,030 documents in the case to determine whether any were withheld improperly. (Eugene Seidel, the U.S. attorney representing OSHA, refused to comment on Hayes’ lawsuit.)

A favorable ruling for Hayes could result in OSHA being monitored for the next five years to ensure it complies with information requests. And if the judge rules against him? Hayes says he has approximately 100 families ready to file a class-action suit against OSHA to require the five-year monitoring period. “Pat’s gone,” he says. “But maybe I can save someone else’s kid.”

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate