Is unreported hazard a stumbling block?

by on April 23, 2013 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

As Tim Foss carried a large box across the warehouse floor, he stepped on a bent grate and fell, twisting his knee.

“I don’t see how Tim can be suing the company,” said Denise Marks, head of the company’s safety committee. “He said he knew the grate was a problem but never reported it.”

“He’s not the first person to stumble on the warehouse floor, but nobody has been hurt before,” said Tim’s supervisor Ron Little. “Did Tim mention why he never said anything?”

“As a matter of fact, yes,” said Denise. “Tim told me after the accident that he didn’t want to complain because he was the new guy. Normally, he tried to avoid the grate, but couldn’t see where he was walking that day.”

“That says a lot for our award-winning safety program, doesn’t it?” said Ron.

“We do have a good safety program,” Denise said. “Our safety committee would’ve addressed this issue – if Tim had reported the problem.”

Tim sued for more than workers comp. Did he win?

The Decision
No, Tim lost. An appeals court ruled that although there may have been signs of negligence on the company’s part, there was no evidence that Tim was sure to be injured by stepping on the defective grate.

Note that the court gave considerable weight to the absence of any prior tripping accidents involving the grate. Although other workers had stumbled in the area of the grate, no one was injured and the workers did not report the incidents.

Additionally, the court pointed out the company had a safety committee that met regularly, conducted safety inspections and had indeed received a safety award.

In this case, trouble began because a new employee was reluctant to speak up about a safety issue that led to an accident. Keep in mind that not everyone is comfortable reporting a problem, especially if they think it might reflect badly on them.

Create an open atmosphere
You can help encourage open attitudes toward safety in your workplace by putting employees at ease about discussing safety problems. Try initiating one-on-one conversations about safety with new employees and those who generally aren’t as vocal as other employees.

Also consider setting up an anonymous complaint system so employees can bring management’s attention to safety concerns with zero risk.

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