When bosses take risks, trouble’s just around the corner

by on May 1, 2012 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

OSHA CO Simone Perri looked at Safety Director Doug Fellowes and grimaced. “In my 10 years on this job, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a flagrant violation,” she said.

“That’s a pretty strong statement,” Doug said.

“But justified,” the CO replied crisply. “Your site supervisor straddled a trench with the excavator he was operating while he had two of his people working down in the trench.”

“They could have been hurt or killed by the trench caving in, or by the excavator falling,” she said. “You’re very fortunate neither of those two things happened.”

“Luckily I was driving by and saw the mess in time to put a stop to it.”

Offender is fired
“We are happy nobody was hurt, sure,” Doug said. “And once we established what had happened, we fired the supervisor.”

“But I want to point out that we had no idea he would do something like this,” Doug went on.

“We have a serious safety program, and we train our people on proper procedures for trenching.”

“I can show you the training materials and the training log of all the sessions we did. Needless to say, this guy went way outside the procedures,” Doug concluded.

“He sure did,” CO Simone said. “And I’m citing you for failing to protect workers from earth and equipment falling into an excavation.”

The company contested the citation and accompanying fine. Did it win?

The decision
No. The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission rejected Safety Director Doug’s argument that the company couldn’t have known the supervisor was going to violate OSHA regs by his own actions and what he had his subordinates do. The Commission affirmed the citation and fine.

Key point
When supervisory personnel commit a safety violation, or know a violation is being committed by others, it’s as if the employer itself knows about the violation.

In legal language, the supervisors’ knowledge of their own or others’ behavior is “imputed” to the employer. And at that point, the employer is wide open to citations and fines.

Supervisors have a heavier safety responsibility than other employees.

They’re the conduit for passing the employer’s safety message down to the troops, and their vigilance can determine whether people get injured or not.

But when supervisors “go rogue” and violate safety rules themselves, the consequences for co-workers and the employer are also heavier, in terms of potential injuries and fines.

In a word, supervisors who violate OSHA regs leave their employers defenseless. Smart Safety Directors will certainly want to impress this point on them.

Cite: Sec’y of Labor v. Pike Electric Inc., No. 08-1389, OSHRC.

photo credit: michaelkpate

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