Student temp injured; OSHA cites lax training

by on March 29, 2011 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

Many industries hire student workers. But even though they’re temporary employees, keep in mind they may need extra attention and supervision.

Ryan Williams, a student working at a packing plant for the summer, lay on a mechanic’s creeper to clean a hard-to-reach area under a moving conveyor belt. At one point, he reached up to push himself forward. His hand got caught in the belt, breaking his arm and tearing tendons. An OSHA inspection followed.

“Was cleaning up around the conveyor belts one of Ryan’s regular jobs?” OSHA Inspector Anne McDonald asked Supervisor Josh Friedman.

“Yes and no,” answered Josh. “We have a number of students working here for the summer and they go where they’re needed. On the day of the accident, the janitor asked me to have Ryan help him clean up the floor.”

“Was using a creeper standard practice for cleaning up under conveyor belts?” Anne asked.

“Again, yes and no,” Josh said. “Walt – the janitor – used a broom to clean under the conveyor belt and he pushed himself around on the creeper because of his arthritis. But Walt never went under the conveyor belt while it was on – that would violate our lockout/tagout procedures.”

Company procedure
“So the janitor was in charge of training Ryan on how to clean around the conveyor belts safely?” asked Anne.

“I know what you’re getting at,” Josh said. “Walt has worked with our student workers for years. He showed Ryan how to clean under the conveyor belt with the broom and warned him not to get under the belt when it was operating. Ryan was also at every safety meeting and heard more warnings about proper lockout/tagout.”

“Then how did Ryan get hurt?” Anne questioned.

“All I know is Ryan was using the creeper when the accident happened and he was under the conveyor belt when it was on,” said Josh. “But Ryan’s still a kid. Kids don’t always listen.”

“Do you think he was properly supervised?” asked Anne.

“We have more than 100 conveyor belts here,” said Josh.

“I can’t be everywhere, which is why I trust Walt’s judgment. Ryan is a great kid and a great worker – he just made a bad decision.”

OSHA cited the company for failing to train Ryan in compliance with the lockout/tagout standard. The company appealed, saying Ryan just didn’t listen.

What went wrong
The OSHA Review Commission upheld the citation, saying the company:

  • Ignored the potential for misunderstanding. Using the creeper to clean under the conveyor belts was an accepted practice as long as the conveyor was locked out. After watching Walt using the creeper, it was predictable Ryan would also try it and forget the all-important lockout step. This was especially true given his age, inexperience, and the ready availability of the creeper.
  • Provided no written rules for the situation. The company had no written rule banning the use of the creeper under moving conveyor belts. Although employees were warned in safety meetings to keep their hands away from the conveyor belts, such a warning was no more than a general reminder.

Cite: Sec’y of Labor v. J.C. Watson Co., No. 05-0175, OSHRC.

photo credit: alvarogalve

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