Local activist receives state achievement award

By Traci DiPietro
Staff Writer
Posted 4/29/07

“I work in construction — they know my hands are just as rough as theirs.” — Ron Hayes

Fairhope resident and safety activist Ron Hayes has been chosen to receive the “Lifetime Safety and Health Achievement Award” for his significant …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Subscribe to continue reading. Already a subscriber? Sign in

Get the gift of local news. All subscriptions 50% off for a limited time!

You can cancel anytime.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Local activist receives state achievement award


“I work in construction — they know my hands are just as rough as theirs.” — Ron Hayes

Fairhope resident and safety activist Ron Hayes has been chosen to receive the “Lifetime Safety and Health Achievement Award” for his significant contributions to occupational safety and health. The award will be presented at the 20th anniversary of the Alabama Governor’s Safety and and Health Conference in August.

More than 500 people are expected to be in attendance, and Hayes has been asked to prepare a 45-minute presentation.

“I am humbled by this award,” said Hayes. “I never started doing this for this reason … I did it to save lives. But winning this award gives me a larger audience, one that I might not have otherwise reached. It provides another rung in the ladder I am trying to climb.”

Since 1993, Hayes has been at the forefront of a battle to improve safety in the workplace. He has fought hard to develop better communication between the Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and families of workers affected by death or injury, and he has received national attention for his activist work in combating work-related fatalities, supporting bereaved families and lobbying for changes in procedures related to how workplace fatalities are handled.

In the years following his 19-year-old son Patrick’s accidental death in October 1993, Hayes traveled across the country speaking to affected families, government officials and industry leaders. He also pressed OSHA to revise its standards of protection for workers at grain elevators and mills.

In 1994, he left his job as an X-ray technician to create a nonprofit organization called The FIGHT Project (FIGHT is an acronym for ‘Families In Grief Hold Together,’ an organization to help families struggling to overcome the loss of a loved one whose life was cut short because of a work-related accident. FIGHT was formally incorporated in 1996.

In 1997, Hayes organized a local march in honor of Alabama’s first observance of National Workers’ Memorial Day. The march, called “Trail of Tears,” drew families from across the South, all with one thing in common … they had lost a loved one in a work-related accident.

In 1999, as a direct result of Hayes’ tenacity in combating organizational failures, OSHA began making major changes to its policies. One of those changes was to appoint a family liaison between OSHA and grieving families. The organization updated and expanded its fatality letter — which explains the investigation process to bereaved families — from one to five pages, and it began to provide sensitivity classes to OSHA inspectors in several states. The classes, developed by Hayes’ FIGHT organization, were recorded by OSHA, and are now used in all 94 federal and state OSHA offices.

Hayes now directs some of his energy toward educating employers on safety, speaking once or twice a week to corporations, industries and municipalities across the nation.

In 2000, Hayes was selected as a Champion of Safety winner in the Occupational Hazards’ annual contest that recognizes achievements in occupational safety and health.

Hayes was appointed as a member of the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH) in February 2002 by then-Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao. (NACOSH was established to advise the secretaries of Labor and Health and Human Services on Occupational Safety and Health about programs and policies).

U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) gave a glowing speech in the Senate about Hayes’ work during the appointment ceremony. The full speech is available on Session’s Web site.

Hayes does not accept any money for his advocacy work; not from unions, corporations or industry trade groups, and he does not accept payment for conducting his training courses. He relies solely on donations from individuals and his own income, derived from his employment in construction, to fund his cause. He saves money by driving rather than flying, and has been known to drive all night to reach Washington to meet with congressmen at their convenience. He enjoys attending conferences where he can educate workers, and he said his own blue-collar status often makes his message more palatable.

“I work in construction — they know my hands are just as rough as theirs,” he said.

Hayes is widely recognized for his expertise regarding work-related deaths, illnesses and injuries, and he has assisted hundreds of families navigate through the post-death process. Although he has slowed down a little since undergoing surgery for a cancerous tumor in his right kidney in 2004, he still travels across the country advocating for, and educating people, on safety in the workplace.

Most recently, Hayes addressed two groups of industrial engineering students at Auburn University, an event he said was the highlight of his year.

“I want to reach these people before they get into management positions,” said Hayes. “I try to teach them things like ‘lead by example,’ and ‘don’t ever ask someone to do something you wouldn’t do.’ A lot of managers have book sense, but I want them to understand the value (of safety).”

Dr. Jerry Davis, an assistant professor at Auburn, invited Hayes to speak after picking up one of Hayes’ brochures at a conference. He said the students were really impacted by Hayes.

“Many times, our courses tend to be very analytical or rules based. Ron’s work puts a human face on the very serious business of occupational safety. The perspective he brings to the classroom as a victim’s advocate for families who have experienced occupational fatalities is a valuable part of the safety education of the young engineers in this course,” said Davis. “It was a pleasure to have Ron speak with my classes, and I look forward to working with him in the future on other safety related projects.”