Rushed supervisor set a bad example

by on October 18, 2011 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

The crew felt the pressure to get things done fast, and the supervisor did, too. The job was to pick truck parts from a series of tall storage racks in the warehouse and rush them out to the front counter, where hurried customers and impatient sales staff waited.

Because of the hurry-up atmosphere, the supervisor took shortcuts while using one of several powered lift trucks to reach the high shelves, and his crew followed suit.

Result? A man died.

Unguarded platform
The open-sided lift platforms were unguarded. Problem was, if there’d been railings, some of the bulky parts wouldn’t have fit onto the platform. So under OSHA regs, the workers were obliged to tie off when the lifts – they called them “pickers” – rose four feet in the air or more.

The lifts had tie-off points, and the company had a firm policy on tying off, too. It read: “Policy! Waist belts must be worn and attached to tether belt when pulling parts with pickers. No exceptions!! It is mandatory!!”

Pretty impressive, exclamation points and all. And apparently everybody was in possession of the required fall-protection gear – harnesses and lanyards to fix to the tie-off point.

But they didn’t use it. Why?

‘In a rush’
“At times, you get to be in a rush, you just go without it,” one employee told OSHA investigators. And the supervisor admitted he and the crew had “all gotten away from tying off” as a “kind of hurried attitude overtook it.”

In this atmosphere, employee Chris Fisher was summoned one day to retrieve a desired part. He raised the lift platform 15 feet.

That’s the height at which the platform was found when co-workers came looking for Fisher, after he didn’t appear at the retail counter with the part.

He was found badly injured on the ground. And later died at a hospital.

OSHA cited the company for violating the fall protection standard and also for failing to retrain employees who worked without harnesses or tethers. OSHA assessed $3,000 in penalties.

The decision
The company contested the citations, claiming it had a clear policy and didn’t know its workers were ignoring it. But the Review Commission ruled that because the supervisor knew what the workers were doing, the company knew. The commission affirmed the penalties.

Sure, there were production pressures on the supervisor. But hardly any workplace is immune from such pressures, and supervisors can’t give in to them and let safety go by the board.
Consider reminding supervisors to:

  • Stay constantly aware of the example they set. Workers will do as they do, not as they say.
  • Seek Safety’s advice where necessary about preserving safety while maintaining production levels.
  • Alert Safety about the need for retraining on safety regs and policies that workers find difficult to abide by.

Cite: Sec’y of Labor v. 4 State Trucks, No. 08-1225, OSHRC.

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