Did firm do enough after near-miss?

by on October 11, 2011 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

Based on the facts presented below, how do you think the courts ruled?

“The crane operator hoisted a load that was twice the crane’s rated capacity,” said Supervisor Craig Ross. “That’s misconduct and that’s why the load came down.”

“I’m not sure it’s misconduct, but it’s clear your operator overloaded that overhead crane by setting the hoist limit switch to 660 amps,” said OSHA Inspector Frank Sullivan.

“That’s way too much power for the crane’s rating,” said Craig. “We train our operators never to set the switch above 489 amps.”

Daily equipment inspections
“Any idea how long the switch was set at that high a level?” asked Frank.

“It must have been less than a day,” said Craig. “The switch is on our daily inspection checklist. I can show you the daily logs.”

“I’ve already looked at your logs,” said Frank. “Turns out you caught a previous crane operator setting the hoist limit switch too high.”

“Yes, a different operator made the same mistake a few months ago,” said Craig. “But there was no accident.”

“What did you do differently as a result of that near-miss?” asked Frank.

“We gave the operator a warning, and told all the other operators not to re-set the hoist limit switch,” said Craig.

“You should have retrained them,” said Frank. “So it’s not operator misconduct.”

“We didn’t think retraining was necessary,” said Craig. “We thought we made our point clear by publicizing the near-miss and issuing a reminder.”

Frank wrote up a citation, saying the company didn’t do enough to make sure workers kept the hoist-limit switch set properly. Did the company get the citation dismissed?

The Decision
Yes, the company won and the citation was dismissed.

The OSHA Review Commission said the accident was caused by operator misconduct, noting the company took numerous steps to prevent workers from re-setting the switch incorrectly.

These included:

  • training its workers to set the switch properly
  • putting switch inspection on its daily crane inspection checklist
  • warning workers who overloaded the cranes, and
  • publicizing a near-miss to remind workers about the danger.

Bottom line: The company showed that it took safety seriously, and did all it could to prevent this accident.

Still, as a result of this accident, the company faced a facility-damaging crane collapse, and a long fight with OSHA.

The danger of shortcuts
Why did the equipment operator overload the switch? Probably to be able to move more materials with each load – that is, to speed production. And in this case, any supervisor could have seen the problem simply by looking up. The load was twice as big as it should have been. That should have clued in the company that workers were taking dangerous shortcuts.

Best bet: Remind your supervisors to follow up after near-misses. While you don’t have to go as far as retraining all your operators after a near-miss, it’s usually not enough just to issue a reminder. Instead, have supervisors pay extra attention to that area, to see if you had a one-time violation of your safety rules – or something worse, bad habits ingrained in workers.

Cite: Secretary of Labor v. WCI Steel, Inc., No. 08-1237, OSHRC. Fictionalized for dramatic effect.

photo credit: David Masters

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