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OSHA didn’t go far enough after Rawhide worker death on job, dad says – The Arizona Republic

Before dawn on Feb. 25, Alyssa Hanson was preparing food and beverages for a drag racing event later that day at Rawhide Western Town and Steakhouse.

The 30-year-old Peoria resident also worked part time for vendors at State Farm Stadium, and her father had heard she had done a shift for a Rawhide event just the night before.

“She was never afraid to work hard,” said her father, Brian Hanson, 64.

Sometime shortly after driving her car through a Rawhide employee entryway that morning, Hanson crossed it again in a company cargo scooter, running into a nylon tow strap that caused her to wreck. 

Hanson died as a result of the crash.

Earlier this month, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced that it determined Hanson’s death was due to safety failures by Rawhide.

The business “exposed workers to serious injuries from struck-by hazards by failing to ensure the gate arm and strap were adequately reflective, and by failing to erect appropriate signage alerting drivers to the road closure and detour,” read a press release from OSHA.

The federal agency found the company vehicle crashed because a strap had been placed to keep the gate open and slapped a $20,302 fine on the business owned by the Gila River Indian Community.

“I thought (the fine) was extremely low considering a fatality was involved,” Brian Hanson said.

Without specifically listing a fine amount, OSHA’s website assesses death as a “high severity violation.” U.S. Department of Labor spokesperson Michael Petersen told The Arizona Republic that OSHA’s aim is to get businesses to improve working conditions.

“We can’t put a dollar figure on life like that. What this is doing is citing an employer for a practice that can or did lead to injury or fatality,” Petersen said. “OSHA can’t replace the value of that person by penalizing the employer.”

There were 97 fatal occupational injuries in Arizona in 2020, according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Rawhide, which operates under the Wild Horse Pass Development Authority, on Monday sent The Arizona Republic a statement addressing Alyssa Hanson’s death on the job.

The development authority “and the Rawhide team continue to grieve the loss of one of our team members,” the statement read, adding intentions to fully cooperate with OSHA and that efforts have been made for employee and customer safety.

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Despite Rawhide’s official statement, Alyssa Hanson’s dad said the family has yet to hear from her employers in the six months since the incident.  

“They’ve never reached out to her mother or myself,” Brian Hanson said. Casting doubt on the statement’s sincerity he added, “Obviously, an attorney wrote that response.”

When asked Friday about communication with Alyssa Hanson’s family following her death, a WWild Horse Pass Development Authority representative forwarded a response from the company to The Republic stating communication over employee benefits were handled through an older sister of the late woman. 

The whole enterprise went mum after Alyssa’s death, her father said, pointing to how he was told employees were directed by management to not comment about the fatal incident. 

“Some of the employees that we kind of know fairly well, just said, ‘Look, we can’t talk to you because we’re basically being gagged by the company,’” Brian Hanson said.

The development authority’s emailed response to The Republic stated only an on-duty manager was asked to hold off on communication until an emergency contact could be reached and more information on the incident was gathered.

Having worked at Rawhide close to a year, her father said Alyssa told him she was likely not going to be there for much longer.

“She was probably gonna be leaving there because she was frustrated with management,” he said.

According to her father, workplace leadership’s “inaction” frustrated Alyssa Hanson and she felt operational changes did not come quickly enough. These concerns were not necessarily related to safety or job welfare, he noted.

A Colorado native, Alyssa Hanson was the youngest of four children. In addition to her siblings and dad, she is survived by her mom, stepmother, two stepbrothers and two nephews.  

Alyssa’s memorial service brought out many people who spoke about how they considered her their best friend, Brian Hanson recalled.

“It was devastating for them,” he said.

Reach breaking news reporter Jose R. Gonzalez at jose.gonzalez@gannett.com or on Twitter @jrgzztx.

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