Carpenter, 33, was a third-generation member of the union, and had been working as a helper at Thompson for just over a year.
He was grinding metal on an oil derrick when he was crushed by a steel plate. Thompson Metal Fab makes products out of structural steel for the oil, gas, wind, high-tech and other industries at a 12-acre industrial facility along the Columbia River. Washington Department of Labor & Industries is investigating the accident to determine whether workplace safety requirements were met. [UPDATE: The agency completed its investigation July 23 and found no violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.]
The accident came as a shock to Local 16 Business Representative Del Brown. Brown worked at Thompson for 20 years, and describes the company’s safety record as stellar. Thompson employs three full-time safety officers, and all employees attend weekly safety meetings. Thompson Metal Fab employs about 220 members of Local 16, plus members of Painters Local 10.
“If there’s anything we can learn from it, we need to learn from it,” Brown said. “If there was something done wrong, we need to fix it. We don’t want this ever to happen again.”
Carpenter’s death was the first-ever fatal accident at the shop, which has been in operation since 1937.
“We take safety very seriously, and we’re still trying to understand how it happened,” Thompson Metal Fab president John Rudi told the Labor Press.
The accident occurred on a Friday. On Monday, Thompson held a company-wide safety training, and provided grief counselors to co-workers. Co-workers and fellow union members at other shops took up a collection to help the family, and the union is continuing to collect donations. Checks to Local 16, with a memo noting it’s intended for the Mike Carpenter Memorial Fund, may be sent to 2379 NE 178th Ave. Portland, OR 97230.
Carpenter is survived by his mother, Debra Ables-Huft; step-father Terry Huft; brother, Randy Carpenter; and two nieces. Both his father and grandfather, now deceased, were employees of Thompson Metal Fab and were members of the union, and his brother was a longtime employee and union member there as well. Prior to working at Thompson, Michael Carpenter worked at Frito-Lay, where he was a member of Bakers Local 364.
A memorial, held March 23 at Layne’s Funeral Home in Battle Ground, was attended by family, friends, co-workers and fellow union members.