Did supervisor know dangerous condition would cause injury?

by on July 21, 2011 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

You know assumptions are dangerous. In this case, a supervisor may have prevented an injury if he’d questioned a worker more closely.

“It sounds like you weren’t paying attention to what Dean was doing,” said supervisor John DiPalo.

“We’ve done this kind of job dozens of times,” said mason Paul Schmidt. “We’ve never had a problem working together before.”

“But you weren’t using the right number of wall ties to stabilize the wall you and Dean were building,” said John.

“I didn’t count out the wall ties, Dean did,” Paul said. “Anyway, I trusted Dean. We work together all the time and he’s been through all the safety training I have.”

“Well, the good news is, neither of you were killed when that wall crashed down,” said John. “I’m sorry you broke your arm and hurt your shoulder, but it could have been much worse.”

“Yeah, but I’m still going to be out for a while,” said Paul.

“Your job will be here when your arm is healed, and we’ll take it from there,” said John.

“Thanks,” said Paul. “But it’s more complicated than that. I think this accident is really the company’s fault.”

“How’s this our fault?” asked John.

“Well, you saw that wall was wobbly,” said Paul. “You should have known that the wall would come down before the mortar set.”

“You told me that you didn’t think the wall would come down,” said John. “What’s more, you didn’t tell me that you didn’t use the correct number of wall ties until after the accident.”

Paul sued. How did the court rule?

The court dismissed the case. Two keys:

  • The worker himself said he didn’t think the wall would fall, so the danger wasn’t obvious.
  • The worker didn’t tell his supervisor that he used the incorrect number of wall ties, so the boss couldn’t have known just how dangerous the situation was.

This case shows the danger of making assumptions. Paul assumed his co-worker Dean counted out the wall ties correctly; John assumed that Paul told him everything when it was clear the wall was “wobbly.”

Bottom line: When you see a situation that looks dangerous, question workers closely to find out if they’ve completed their work correctly.

Cite: Pattyson v. Phillips Masonry.

photo credit: Tygart

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