"Six months ago today," the letter began, "a 24-year-old man was killed in a ditch cave-in in Arlington.

"The reason: what appears to be blatant acts of negligence on the part of the company he worked for, Dittmar.

"There was no shoring, there were no escape ladders, there were not any emergency numbers posted when men tried to call for help, there wasn't even a work permit issued for the job.

"Forget the state safety codes and save those bucks, an attitude that prevais at almost all construction sites today, but that time it backfired and a young man was killed.

"There were two killed two weeks before him and two more killed several months later at different sites, and these deaths are a result of someone trying to save money.

"It's a senseless waste of good lives and something has to be done to enforce these safety regulations better.

"If you're wondering why I am so very aware of these facts, it's because the man killed on August 22, 1978, C. Thomas Noll Jr., was my husband." The letter was signed, "Barbara L. Noll, a 24-year-old widow."

Our news clippings add this back-ground: Deryle C. Cuddy, an Arlington County construction inspector, said the ditch in which Tom Noll died had not been properly shored. Benjamin Bianco, chief plumbing inspector for Arlington, said the Dittmar Construction Co., for whom Noll worked, had not applied for a permit for the ditch, although permits are required before any excavation can be done.

Several months later, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Dittmar $10,200 for safety violations related to Noll's death. OSHA area director Warren Wright described the fine as the maximum he could levy in the case.

In 1973, Dittmar was fined $650 in connection with the electrocution of a 21-year-old construction worker and the serious injury of a foreman. Wright said Dittmar was fined for permitting employees to operate a crane without a 10-foot minimum clearance from live electrical wires.

Dittmar's owner is Thomas J. Offutt Sr., who also owns several Arlington apartment complexes. In March of 1975, the Justice Department filed a suit against Offutt, whose company owns the Dolley Madison Towers apartments. The suit charged that Offutt and Dittmar had been refusing to rent to "Mexicans, Arabs and citizens of most African and South American countries." Offutt declined to comment.

Newspapers publish so many reports about accidental deaths that a reader who has not had personal involvement in a case seldom gives much time or attention to it. The victim is just one more digit added to a statistical table.

But for those left behind -- the mother, the father, the children or the widow -- the loss is very personal, and the need for safer procedures is very clear.

Yet automobiles are still killing almost a thousand people every week , and in juring 3 million every year. And industrial accidents occur with such frequency they appear to be an inevitable concomitant to modern life.


Clara R. Schweer thinks newspaper delivery boys and girls often fail to receive credit and appreciation for the efforts they exert. She writes:

"When our newspaper boy, Stephen Ayers, came trudging along in hip deep snow this morning, I felt moved to write a note of appreciation for his dependability. He declined our invitation to come inside and get warm, stating that he had to finish his deliveries."

Our own carrier also fought his way through hip deep snow. Just watching him gave me chest pains. I had told my wife we wouldn't have enough people to produce a paper; and even if we did, the delivery truck would never get through to our street; and even if it did, the bundles would be lost in snow-drifts for a week; and even if I turned out to be wrong about everything else, the carrier would never be able to get through the drifts to our house.

But I was wrong on all counts. Our paper was carefully tucked inside our storm door every day.

The entire performance defies understanding. Tens of thousands of people got through somehow -- doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, policemen, firemen, bus drivers, telephone people, repairmen, newspapermen, broadcasters, postal workers, heating and plumbing personnel, snow emergency crews and many others. We owe them our thanks -- and our forbearance in the days ahead when they goof occasionally.