Safety checks: Are people just going through the motions?

by on December 7, 2010 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

“How could this happen?” Safety Director Paul Lazenby asked construction site supervisor Rich Jenson. “How does a truck go into the water and drown the driver?”

“We couldn’t see it coming,” Rich said. He was still shaken from identifying the drowned driver after the driver and the truck were pulled out of the county-owned retention pond where they’d fallen.

“Before we let any of the drivers take their equipment out onto that dirt berm, we checked the soil to see if it would support the machines,” Rich said. “We figured it would.

Third time unlucky
“And the first couple of runs the truck and ‘dozer made on the berm went fine,” he said. “The third time, though, the truck slipped off…” His voice trailed away.

“When you say you checked the soil, what do you mean?” Paul asked. “Did you run a density test or a compaction test? That’s what OSHA’s going to ask when they get here.”

“Well, no,” Rich said. “What I did was I walked out on the berm looking to see whether there were any holes, or whether the surface was uneven enough to cause problems. I didn’t see any, so we went ahead.”

Narrow passage
Paul, the safety director, slapped his forehead. “Oh, geez,” he said. “That’s not gonna be good enough. Another thing: How wide is the berm?”

“I haven’t measured it, but I think it’s about 12 feet wide,” the supervisor said.

“I know that truck,” Paul said. “Its wheelbase is 9.5 feet wide. So the driver had a foot and a half clearance on either side? That’s way too narrow. A wheel could easily go over the edge.

“I think we’re in trouble here,” the safety director concluded.

Sure enough, OSHA cited and fined the company for violating the standard on safe access roadways. The company appealed. Did it win?

The Decision
No, the Occupational Safety & Health Review Commission confirmed the citation and $4,900 fine.

The Commission said supervisor Rich made “no meaningful effort” to ascertain if it was safe to drive the truck on the berm. Rich failed to:

  • calculate the weight of the truck or the load.
  • contact county authorities to determine the load capacity of the berm.
  • try to determine whether there was any erosion on the side of the berm next to the water.
  • conduct soil testing of the berm, or
  • consider using a smaller, lighter truck.

Basically, all he did was make a pro forma inspection of the berm so he could say he’d done so.

Talking about erosion, it’s an apt metaphor for what can happen to your safety program over time. On the surface, your people are checking what they should check. But underneath, they’re really only going through the motions – and one day there’s going to be a collapse.

To avoid this, periodically remind supervisors and employees of the “whys” of your safety rules – saving lives, avoiding injuries and so forth. If you focus exclusively on the “whats” – inspections, procedures, incentives, penalties – you risk fostering a culture of “safety make-believe.”

Cite: Sec’y. of Labor v. Central Florida Equipment Rentals, No. 08-1656, OSHRC.

photo credit: wirwuenscheneinbierinternationalereisegesellschaft

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