Hazard was no big deal – until he had to hurry

by on January 13, 2011 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

Workers may safely negotiate a slip and trip hazard 99 times, but the 100th time – when they’re in a hurry – may prove much less lucky.

“What happened to Ed Dittmar?” Safety Director Gale McIntosh asked supervisor Wick Trewhitt.

“Just a dumb accident,” Wick said. “Coming into the building, he tripped on that high curb at the back entrance and fell down. Broke his shoulder.”

“Ever since Ed started doing our contract plumbing work at this facility, he’s used that entrance without any problem,” Gale said. “Did the curb suddenly leap up and grab his ankle this time?”

Haste makes waste
Wick couldn’t help cracking a little smile, even though he felt sorry for Ed.

“No,” he said. “But here’s the thing: Ed was in a hurry because we had sprung a bad leak in one of the water heaters. There was literally water everywhere, and when we called him we told him it was a rush-rush job.

“I guess in his haste to fix the leak he forgot about stepping up extra high to get over the curb, even though, as you say, he’d done it dozens if not hundreds of times,” Wick concluded.

Closing the barn door?
“Maybe,” Gale said. “So now I’ll go have a look at the curb. We probably need to cut it down to avoid future accidents, although this particular horse has already left the barn.”

Indeed it had. Ed, the outside contractor, sued the company for failing to warn him of a potentially dangerous
condition. Did he win?

The decision
Yes, Ed won an important legal victory when the court hearing his lawsuit refused to throw it out, as the company wanted. The company argued that the high curb posed an open and obvious danger, and no
reasonably observant person should have tripped over it, even in the absence of a warning.

But the court said what was an open and obvious danger in some circumstances might not be in others – such as when someone was rushing to complete emergency work.

Although this case involved a non-employee – Ed the plumber was an outside contractor – the safety point it makes is equally applicable to employees. That point: People may work around a slip or trip hazard safely for a long time, and then, one day, fall victim to the hazard in a moment of haste or inattention.

What you can do to prevent accidents such as this one?

  • Inventory slip and trip hazards in your facility. Take an supervisor along, as they may notice things even you won’t.
  • Fight complacency, by retraining and/or reemphasizing slip and trip hazards. In Ed’s case, lots of
    people – including the safety director himself – knew the curb posed a hazard. But people got
    used to it.
  • Reward employees who draw your attention to new slip or trip hazards as they develop.

Cite: Ky. River Med. Center v. McIntosh, No. 2008-SC-000464, Ky. Sup., 8/26/10.

photo credit: *Sally M*

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