Drop everything and run, the emergency orders said

by on January 25, 2011 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

“I told Don the first time we had to evacuate the tunnel,” concrete crew supervisor John Petrie recalled. “‘If the water starts to rise, drop everything and run,’ I said. If he’d done it when we had the second flood, he’d still be with us today.”

“But instead he tried to gather up and secure his tools so they wouldn’t be lost,” Safety Director Ken Northcutt prompted.

A conscientious man
“That’s right,” John said. “Don was very conscientious. And despite my warnings – I told everybody they could drown if they didn’t get out quick – I don’t think he believed how fast the storm sewers could fill up if it started raining.”

“The last anyone saw Don alive, he was pushing a tool cart toward the emergency exit,” John said sadly. “But by then, water was pouring down the exit tube and it was too late. As you know, his body was found in the river two days later.”

Wrongful death?
“And now his widow is suing for wrongful death,” Ken said. “It’s a tragedy, but I don’t see how we can be held responsible. From what you tell me, Don disobeyed clear orders about what to do in an emergency. That makes his death his own fault, as harsh as it may sound.”

“That’s about the size of it,” John agreed.

Did John and Ken’s employer successfully defend the lawsuit?

The decision
Yes, the employer won.

The court said any responsibility the employer had toward Don – or his widow – was negated by his conduct.
By going against specific emergency orders, Don assumed the risk of his own death, the court said.

Experienced Safety Directors know that oftentimes, the biggest issue with an emergency evacuation plan is not the plan itself. It’s getting workers to take it seriously. After all, the kind of emergency the plan envisages may happen only rarely – or never.

To engage emotions and get buy-in, try techniques like these:

  • Show, don’t tell. In discussing a fire evacuation plan, for instance, you could do a controlled ignition of a small quantity of a flammable substance that’s kept on the premises. People may be shocked to see how quickly things go up in smoke. In the case discussed above, the Safety Director could have arranged a scale-model demonstration to show how fast a closed space can fill with water.
  • Exploit first-hand experiences. Survey workers and find out who has had to evacuate for real in the past. Get these folks to relate at safety meetings how scary it was, and how emergency plans helped them escape.
  • Leverage emotional ties. Perhaps you can find a cooperative spouse, parent or even child who’d be willing to help. Have them tell a safety meeting how they’d feel if their spouse/child/parent died in an emergency.

Cite: Eleria v. City of St. Paul, No. A10-1045, Minn. App., 12/28/10.

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