Supervisors in name only – no one was really in charge of work site

by on August 9, 2012 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

The contract documents said there were three “supervisors” on a worksite – three people charged with supervising crews demolishing gypsum wallboard.
One of the contractor’s supervisors fell off a 12-foot scaffold to a concrete floor, suffering severe head injuries and causing him to miss months of work. He also suffered broken ribs.

His injuries were so severe that safety directors couldn’t ask him how the accident happened. Investigators had to interview the other workers to find out what happened. But they really didn’t know – although they were able to get treatment for the fallen worker, none of them had seen the accident.

Problems uncovered …
So if there were three supervisors, how come post-accidents interviews didn’t uncover the accident’s cause, but did uncover the following safety hazards?

  • Uncompleted scaffold inspections. The crews assembled the scaffolds and that was that. No one inspected them before a shift, not after modifications, and not before using the scaffold.
  • Post-accident inspections revealed loose wingnuts, unhooked safety chains, and unengaged locking pins.
  • Hazardous scaffold use. Workers moved the scaffold into position while other workers remained up top. Ladders had unevenly spaced rungs.
  • Ineffective PPE. The injured supervisors’ shoe soles were worn slick and cracked.
  • Careless practices. Workers on the scaffold dropped wallboard debris to the floor, near ground-level workers. Tools on the scaffold platform were left lying about and were a trip hazard.

… but not the cause
Investigators didn’t know if any of these hazards caused the accident or triggered it. (Investigators speculated the injured worker slipped while trying to avoid a guidewire and climb down the scaffold. But they don’t really know.)

What they were most concerned about, however, was the sheer number of hazards, and the fact that no one seemed to be in charge of the work. Investigators learned that the “supervisors” responsibilities were much the same as the rest of their crews – they were working alongside them, demolishing drywall, all day long.

They were supervisors in name only. In fact, no one was in charge of the crew’s safety and supervising work to ensure compliance with safety rules.
Lessons for safety directors: It’s easy for subcontractors to declare someone a “competent person” or say, “This person is the foreman.” And as this case shows, some subs will do just that. That’s why you should:

    • Ask for details about work supervision – who has safety responsibilities, who is the “competent person,” and who will conduct inspections.
    • Ask for qualifications for the supervisors. They should be able to show relevant credentials (i.e., forklift certification) when necessary.
    • Check. Do a spot inspection to make sure someone really is supervising.


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