Horsing around is no laughing matter

by on April 7, 2011 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

Based on the facts presented below, how do you think OSHA (or the courts) ruled?

“We need a safety meeting to remind people we won’t tolerate horseplay,” Safety Director Alice Kim told Supervisor Brent Davis.

“I agree,” said Brent. “Maybe it’ll stop what happened when Pete and John thought it was OK to play around with the scissors lift.”

“What were they thinking?” asked Alice.

“John thought it was funny to lower the lift all the way, then suddenly raise it as Pete stepped off,” said Brent.

“And Pete fell to the floor and broke his elbow,” Alice said.

“Exactly,” said Brent. “I don’t know what they were thinking.”

“That’s why we need the meeting, to find out how widespread this is and put a stop to it,” said Alice. “Even though in this case, it’s already too late.”

“Too late?” Brent asked.

“Pete’s already injured and he sued us, for more than he’d get from workers comp,” said Alice. “He says we should have prohibited all horseplay. And he said that John’s action amounted to trying to hurt him.”

“I think we can beat this rap,” said Brent. “No one wanted to hurt Pete.”

Did the company win?
Yes, the company won. An appeals court judge said that while John violated the company’s safety policy, there was no evidence that John intentionally meant to hurt Pete with his roughhousing.

And without a showing of intent to harm, the case was dismissed. Pete was limited to workers compensation for his injuries and lost work time.

Taking the right steps
As this case shows, horseplay can quickly escalate and become dangerous, especially around heavy equipment. Although goofing around may lighten the atmosphere, supervisors must strictly enforce company policies against it.

The supervisor made the mistake of letting John’s behavior slide until his joking around hurt another employee and led to a lawsuit.

Here’s what Brent should have done to head off trouble:

  1. Immediately put a stop to any horseplay, no matter how harmless it seemed. It would have been better to stop the problems early, rather than let them fester.
  2. Consistently reprimanded all employees who engage in any level of horseplay.
  3. Make sure, through safety training and written safety rules, that employees are aware of the company’s policy on horseplay and the consequences of violating that policy.

Cite: Miller v. Thornhill Wrecker Service, Inc., No. 2007-2481, La. App.

photo credit: sfslim

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