Trainee pushed too hard on shorthanded shift

by on April 21, 2011 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

Based on the facts presented below, how do you think the courts ruled?

On-the-job training is one of the most effective ways to learn new skills, but only if the trainee is properly supervised.

“You weren’t qualified to supervise Carol on the automatic press,” shift supervisor Jerry Baker said to crew leader Tim Williams.

“There wasn’t anyone else available,” said Tim. “Besides, we were just loading the coil on to the press. But the coil fell off the forklift. I’m sorry she got hurt.”

Experience needed
“I am, too,” said Jerry. “And she was lucky it was only her foot that got broken – that coil weighs 2,000 pounds. But back to the issue – you knew Carol just started training on the automatic press. She needed to be working with a more experienced forklift operator.”

“I’m fully licensed on the forklift,” Tim said. “I’ve loaded coils plenty of times.”

“You only run that forklift when we really need it – maybe five times in the past six months,” said Jerry. “Carol’s training required both an experienced automatic press operator and forklift operator.”

Caught short-handed
“But neither of them were working that day because of the holiday weekend,” Tim pointed out. “We were short-handed and I was the only one on the floor qualified to work with Carol.”

“I’ll rethink people’s schedules,” Jerry said. “But that’s not the issue here. Instead of putting Carol in a situation she wasn’t ready for, I’d have had her work on the remaining training videos and written tests while everyone was off.”

“Yeah, but the work still had to get done,” Tim said. “I didn’t have any other options that day.”

“Well, we can’t get in a personnel bind like this again, especially since people obviously can get hurt,” said Jerry.

“Right,” said Tim. “Look, even if she sues, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Nobody meant for Carol to get hurt.”

Carol sued the company for a payout above and beyond workers’ comp. Did the company get a dismissal?

Court decision
No, the company lost. An appeals court said the company knew it was putting Carol in harm’s way: The company assigned a trainee to work independently on an automatic press, and allowed an inexperienced forklift operator to work with her. That amounted to a “substantial certainty” the person would be hurt. So Carol gets to take her case to trial.

Usually companies settle on the courthouse steps rather than face a blockbuster jury verdict.

Action steps
To avoid putting a trainee in a situation he or she can’t handle, remember:

  • Don’t take shortcuts. Even when you are short-handed and under pressure to get the work out.
  • ‘Sink or swim’ isn’t an option. If someone isn’t ready to work alone, they shouldn’t work alone, even if “almost ready.”
  • If the person can work with supervision, use only qualified personnel. This is especially true if the person helping the trainee “used to be” qualified (like Tim).
  • Prioritize. Is the job something that can wait until a full staff is present, or do you need to call in someone with the proper qualifications?

Cite: Kerg v. Atlantic Tool and Die Co., No. 89776, Ohio App.

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