Tragedy mars almost a decade of excellent safety performance

by on July 28, 2015 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

Everyone loves a story of redemption. After three fatalities in 2006 and a related $1.2 million fine, bridge-painting contractor Thomas Industrial Coatings of Pevely, MO, did an about face. The company hired safety consultants and revamped its safety program.

Now, nearly 10 years later, it has suffered its first fatality since it turned its safety program around. And because of its excellent safety record, it may be given the benefit of the doubt, at least in the court of public opinion. In this case, a worker was working on a suspended scaffold under the Eads Bridge, which traverses the Mississippi River and connects St. Louis with East St. Louis, IL. A towboat missed the channel under the bridge and tore away the scaffold, and 24-year-old James Pigue of Dittmer, MO, fell to his death onto the boat.

The towboat company blamed either flooding or Thomas Industrial for suspending the scaffold, whereas Thomas Industrial responded that the boat was not in the river channel.

Even as lawyers sharpen up their pencils to file lawsuits, this much is known about the legal fallout: Thomas Industrial’s safety program has most likely saved lives in the past 10 years and the safety program now gives the company a reputation as a good corporate citizen. It is not presumed guilty. Now it can point to its safety efforts and the safety procedures the company has followed. That would not have been true under its old, pre-2006 safety program.

As far as the safety angle leading to this tragedy, the question is: How likely was something like this to occur? If it’s somewhat likely, then there was most likely an effort in job-hazard analysis. High water, winds, or errant navigation can lead to boats not remaining within limits, and that likely put workers in harm’s way.

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