Working around suspended loads: Code Red for danger

by on December 9, 2010 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

I yelled for Sean to get out of the way, but the attachment he was putting on the bulldozer toppled over and crushed him,” supervisor Arlen Roper told Safety Director Emil Patuszek.

“What attachment?” Emil asked.

“One of those 10-foot ripper shanks, you know, with the big tooth for tearing up ground,” Arlen said. “It weighs over a ton, so you can imagine …”

“Did Sean suspend the shank from a crane with a chain? That’s the usual way,” Emil said.

“Yep. Sean and Larry were using pry bars to move the shank into position,” Arlen said. “I think what happened is the shank’s toe was resting on the ground, the chain slackened and the chain hook came off.”

“This is big trouble,” Emil said.

Sean’s widow filed a workers comp case charging willful misconduct. Did she win?

The decision
No. The state workers comp board initially awarded her damages, but an appeals court overturned the board’s ruling.

The widow’s expert witness, a heavy equipment operator, testified that the method used by
the victim and his co-worker – a chain secured by an open-type hook – was risky because the hook could come loose and fall off if the tension on the chain was relaxed. Also, moving the shank with pry bars put workers dangerously near the load.

Emil and Arlen argued that the method employed by the two workers was the only one they’d ever known, and had never caused problems in the past. The court said there might have been better methods of attaching the shank. But the company didn’t deliberately fail to protect the victim, and so wasn’t guilty of
willful misconduct.

The ruling was good news for the company, but it didn’t bring the victim back to life.

Consider these four steps you can take to protect people from the dangers of suspended loads:

  • Create an exclusion zone around the load.
  • If it’s unavoidable that people work under or close to a suspended, use self-closing hooks with safety latches.
  • Insist that workers never leave a load suspended in the air.
  • Don’t let workers jerk the load while beginning to raise it. They should take up any slack slowly.

Cite: Ford Construction Co. v. Workers Compensation Appeals Board, No. C061176., Cal App., 9/17/10.

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