All the training in the world won’t replace proper discipline

by on April 3, 2012 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

“I guess we’ll never know why Bill Johnson unhooked his lanyard just before he fell 70 feet,” Safety Director Duke Clawson said somberly. “He’s no longer around to explain.”

“But I’ll tell you right now that we emphasize 100% fall protection on this job,” Duke went on, addressing OSHA CO Stephanie Griggs. “I can show you how intensively Bill was trained. I checked, and of the 26 toolbox talks he attended in his year on the job, we talked about fall protection 19 times.”

The CO nodded. “I’ll want to look at your documentation, of course,” she said. “But what’s of equal concern to me is how consistently – or otherwise – you disciplined people who broke the tie-off rule.”

Written vs. oral
“Of course we didn’t ignore breaches of the rule,” Duke said. “We’ve issued two written warnings – not to Bill, but to other guys – and several oral warnings. I’m not sure how many of those, but there’ve been plenty.”

“But that’s the problem,” the CO riposted. “There’s nothing about oral warnings in the safety plan you gave me a copy of. It says straight out that anybody breaking any safety rule – including the one on tying off – is supposed to get a written warning. The plan says nothing about oral warnings.”

“We’ve issued oral warnings when the violation wasn’t willful – when a guy didn’t knowingly flout the rule,” Duke said. “Where people showed they didn’t care about the rule, we’ve issued written warnings and even a suspension in one case.”

“How can somebody working far off the ground unknowingly disobey a rule ordering them to be tied off?” CO Griggs said. “You’re making a phony distinction, and you’re not following your own disciplinary plan. That renders your safety training ineffective.”

“And the proof is that I’ve collected testimony from several workers that people sometimes worked at heights without being tied off,” she said. “I’m citing you for violating the fall protection standard.”

The company appealed the OSHA citation to the Occupational Safety & Health Review Commission, claiming Bill’s death was due to his own unpreventable misconduct.

The decision
The Commission rejected the company’s appeal.

The Commission said that to show unpreventable misconduct on Bill’s part, the company would have to demonstrate that it enforced its fall protection rule through effective discipline.

But because the company departed substantially from its own disciplinary procedures, it couldn’t show that its enforcement was adequate.

Safety training is an essential part of any effective safety program.

People need specific information on how to stay safe, and they need the periodic reminders that training provides.

But as this case shows, you can undermine all your good training work if you don’t monitor compliance and apply firm, consistent discipline where necessary.

Cite: Sec’y. of Labor v. American Bridge Co., No. 09-0130, OSHRC.

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