Supervisor doesn’t rein in speed demon until it’s too late

by on August 20, 2013 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

“You never reined in Donny,” said production-line employee Jose Madeira, who was out on workers comp after suffering severe back and leg injuries at work.

“Donny was a good worker – very productive,” said Walt.

“Of course he was productive,” said Jose. “He drove faster than anyone else. How many near misses did he have?”

“A few, and I talked to him each time,” said Walt.

Inertia wins
“Your talks didn’t stop him,” said Jose. “He flew through the busiest intersection in our facility and nearly killed me.

“He barely stopped in time – but he couldn’t stop that heavy load of materials he was carrying. You’re not the one who ended up under a pile of sheet metal.”

“I know you were seriously hurt, and I agree your injuries could have been worse,” said Walt. “I sympathize.”

“That’s not the point,” said Jose. “The point is you assigned me to work in a busy intersection, one with known blind spots, and also knew Donny frequently flew through that intersection. You had to know, sooner or later, someone would get hurt there.”

Trying to slow him down
“I didn’t know you or anyone else would get hurt,” said Walt. “We’re working on a solution for that intersection … and I had been trying to get Donny to slow down.”

“You should have moved faster,” said Jose. “I talked to a lawyer who advertises on daytime TV, and he thinks I don’t have to settle for my workers comp award.”

“You’ll have to take that up with the company lawyers,” said Walt. “But I know no one tried to hurt you or put you in harm’s way. Safety’s important here.”

Jose sued the company for more than workers comp. He argued that the company knew that an injury would eventually occur at that intersection.

Walter’s company got the case dismissed after a long legal fight. The judges were critical of the safety procedures, saying the company failed to address the dangerous intersection and rein in a reckless driver.

But even so, they let the employer off the hook. The judges said that workers comp is the “exclusive remedy” for industrial accidents unless the company was substantially certain an accident would occur.

The judges said Jose didn’t meet that high legal standard. The supervisor didn’t put Jose in that intersection knowing that the forklift driver would run over him. Jose will have to settle for his workers compensation award.

What you can do
Take home: Don’t assume you’re automatically protected by the exclusive remedy provisions of workers comp law in cases like this. Even though the company won the legal battle, it still had an injured worker and fought a long, expensive legal battle.

Don’t wait for multiple violations or near-misses before beginning progressive discipline. Make supervisors hold people accountable starting at the first violation. That way, workers won’t develop bad habits that are hard to break.

And if there are busy intersections and blind spots in your facility, report them to your safety committee. Your company can correct them before someone gets hurt, and you’ll stay out of court to boot.

Cite: Stallings v. General Motors Corp., No. 284973, Mich. App.

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