Could the boss have made this job less dangerous?

by on May 31, 2011 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

You’ve no doubt received your share of worker complaints. Some are valuable; others aren’t. How do you decide which is which?

Every supervisor must use his own judgment. Here’s a rule of thumb: If the worker’s an expert and at risk, supervisors want to pay close attention to his safety complaints.

“I have been warning the company about that unsafe process for years,” said veteran worker Jim Davenport. “Now that I’ve broken my pelvis, someone is finally listening.”

“I’m sorry for your injury,” said Supervisor Neil Kramer. “But you’re the first person to get trapped between those coils. It’s no consolation, but it really was just a bad accident.”

“I don’t think so,” said Jim. “Management had a lot of chances to make my job safer. I complained to you and the safety committee several times. Nothing got done. That process was an accident waiting to happen.”

“We considered your complaints,” said Neil. “We thought the process was still safe.”

“For 10 years, I’ve had to stand between two 10-ton steel coils and unhook the loads,” said Jim.

“It looks scary,” said Neil. “But those coils have never rolled.”

“Dumb luck,” said Jim. “The floor has been chipped for years.”

Neil interrupted, “That’s exactly what I’m saying. You’ve been complaining about some chips in the floor, but the coils have never rolled before. I don’t know why the coils rolled that day.”

“Don’t you think that sooner or later a coil would roll?” said Jim. “The floor is getting more uneven and cracked as time goes on. It needs to be fixed.”

“You and I both know lot of things can make a coil roll, like a bad placement by the crane operator,” said Neil. “Or you might’ve been in a hurry that day. The job has its risks and a single accident in all these years is a good safety record.”

“But the job would be less dangerous if the company fixed the floor,” Jim said.

“Maybe, maybe not,” said Neil. “I don’t think we’ll ever know why that coil rolled back on you.”

“Well, maybe a judge can figure it out for us,” Jim said.

Jim sued the company for a payout above and beyond workers comp, arguing that the company created a situation in which he was sure to be injured. The company asked for a dismissal and said the worker should be satisfied with workers comp.

Did the company win?

The company lost: It didn’t get a dismissal. That means either more costly litigation – or a hefty settlement check.

The judges said a jury should decide whether or not the company’s safety procedures were so weak that a worker was “substantially certain” to get injured.

When deciding how seriously to take a worker complaint, consider the following:

  • The worker’s danger. No matter what level of experience, if a worker is at risk, they may bring a valuable perspective to the task.
  • The worker’s expertise. Veteran workers may have good ideas of when something should be fixed – in this case, the floor.
  • The worker’s persistence. If a worker keeps complaining about an issue, take another look.

One key: Look for a win-win solution. In this case, perhaps the floor didn’t need an expensive fix – there may have been a different way to unhook the loads so a worker didn’t have to stand between them.

Cite: Duco v. Wheeling Pittsburgh Steel Corp., No. 07-JE-41, Ohio App.

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