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Duke employee's death raises workplace-safety concerns

Posted May 15, 2008

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— A master steamfitter killed Wednesday when a steam line exploded in the basement of a Duke University research building kept a log about safety concerns on the job, his stepson says.

Rayford Cofer, 63, of Franklinton, was working in a mechanical room in the basement of the Levine Science Research Center when the accident occurred, the school said. There were no other injuries.

"We hear a lot of stories from guys down there that, you know – we plan on talking to our attorney about it to see if it is something we need to be aware of or something we can do there," Cofer's stepson, William Coble, said. "Is something here? If there is, we're going to move forward with it."

Coble would not talk about specific concerns but did say Cofer, who had been employed by Duke since 2001, was told to "patch things" when they should have been repaired more extensively.

"They only made him fix things that were broken at the last moment," Coble said.

Kemel Dawkins, Duke's vice president of campus services, said the school is taking the allegations seriously and will "launch a full investigation into this incident and its causes and any other issues that this may raise."

He said Wednesday that there were no previous problems with the building's systems.
"Obviously, we're learning more every moment, but we're still far away from drawing any firm conclusions from this," he said Thursday.

The Department of Labor's Division of Occupational Safety and Health is also investigating. It could be up to three months before investigators reach any conclusions, a spokesman said.

The Levine Science Research Center is a 341,000-square-foot facility that houses animals and scientific samples, as well as classrooms, laboratory space and offices for several science departments.

Cleanup is still under way in the building following Wednesday's rupture, but the building reopened Thursday for most of the day.

It closed again Thursday evening for crews to do additional work, but Dawkins said it will reopen Friday at 9 a.m. Decisions about whether the building will be open this weekend will be made later, he said.

Department of Labor spokesman Neal O'Briant said there has only been one serious violation against Duke in the last 20 years.

That was in 1992 and involved a trench near a construction site. The university was fined $13,950, O'Briant said.


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  • PC is for Losers May 15, 2008

    The stepson is only after money? Whom are the "appropriate people?"

    If this happened to your father, and you knew about some safety issues he had documented prior to an accident, and you did not contact a lawyer then you would be foolish. Unless, like your moniker implies, you don't care.

  • dcatz May 15, 2008

    Money is what drives the world and it is was drives decisions in this country.

    The only way to bring about change is to hit people in the pocketbooks.

  • davidgnews May 15, 2008

    When I left there a year and a half ago, there was still asbestos around the pipes in my office. They're very slack about stuff unless it's an 'immediate' concern.

    They're already most likely paying lawyers on a daily basis to keep things out of the news anyway, so that's just routine for them.

  • whocares May 15, 2008

    The stepson is only after money. If he was truly concerned about this he would have taken this information to the appropriate people instead of talking to a lawyer about sueing not even 24 hours after this man died. He is just concerned that he will not get anything in the end and I hope he doesn't.

  • Funkenstein May 15, 2008

    "William Coble is already looking for a check. His old man isn't even cold yet and he's got the settlement check spent."

    There is no way you have any idea what is going through Mr Coble's mind. As a previous poster mentioned, he would be a fool not to have an attorney look into this. If the deceased did keep a log of safety problems then it absolutely should be looked into. One of the problems is that this guy, to a lot of the folks at Duke, is just a worker and not taken seriously. If he has any complaints or concerns there is a very good chance they were blown off. Then when someone gets hurt, they become all concerned and devastated. I think that has more to do with CYA.

  • mrkagain May 15, 2008

    "William Coble is already looking for a check. His old man isn't even cold yet and he's got the settlement check spent."

    Well, since you know everything, could you tell me when my stimulus check will arrive? I have it spent already, too. LOL

  • PC is for Losers May 15, 2008

    Hate it all you want, but only a smart person WOULD talk to a lawyer if they feel their family member had possibly been harmed by the negligence of an employer! The family probably has lots of emotions regarding the death - you gotta give 'em a break for not just putting on a black coat and crying all day.

    Stick a mike in their face and they may express themsleves.

  • countess May 15, 2008

    I read a few posts down that someone discussed him being the bread winner and they probably need money. I don't know of their particular situation but I know that they will get workers' compensation for this, either in a lump sum or for a period of time. Just wanted to clarify that.

  • tryton77 May 15, 2008

    William Coble is already looking for a check. His old man isn't even cold yet and he's got the settlement check spent.

  • mrkagain May 15, 2008

    "Better teminated then the end result of keeping the information to himself. If I feel my life is in danger and I cannot solve the problem I am seeking help from someone."

    I agree. But a lot of hungry people pray and hope and show up for work. Remember the BP oil refinery explosion in Texas City back in 2005?