No one noticed that workers were taking unnecessary risks

by on December 6, 2011 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

“We were in charge of the subcontractor’s safety – how did its employees get away with such sloppy safety practices?” said Safety Director Al Morrow.

“They must have been on their best behavior when they knew I was there,” said Supervisor Mike Brown. “When I looked through the window in the door, everything seemed fine. Things must have changed after I left.”

“Could you see the scaffold they were working on?” asked Al.

“Yes, I checked several times on the day of the accident, and saw the two workers on the scaffold each time,” said Mike. “Everything looked normal.”

Didn’t watch for move
“So you didn’t see them moving the scaffold,” said Al.

“No,” said Mike. “It never occurred to me that they’d leave the scaffold wheels unlocked and move the scaffold by pulling themselves along a wall instead.”

“They obviously knew better. I told them at the start of the job they had to dismount, roll the scaffold into place, lock the wheels and then climb back on it.”

“Moving a scaffold can be dangerous if it isn’t done right,” said Al. “Now the subcontractor’s workers tell us that they’d been moving the scaffold that way for days. When they tipped the whole thing over, a worker got hurt.”

Checked frequently
“He’s suing us for negligent supervision. Why didn’t you catch them before this happened?”

“Like I said, I checked on them frequently,” said Mike. “But I was focused on whether they were wearing their PPE – which they were – and whether they were properly disposing of the hazardous materials they were removing.”

“They were doing both. I guess I didn’t spot the right danger. But that was an honest mistake. It doesn’t mean I was negligent in supervising them.”

“Couldn’t you have gone inside the room they were working in?” asked Al.

‘Seemed normal’
“Not easily,” said Mike. “It would’ve required 15 minutes just to put on PPE. I had other responsibilities. Like I said, I checked frequently, and everything seemed normal.”

The company asked a court to dismiss the injured worker’s lawsuit. Did the court agree?

Supervisor was negligent
No, the court refused to dismiss the case.

The court said the workers admitted they’d been improperly moving the scaffold for days, and the supervisor had never done anything about it.

The supervisor’s oversight may seem understandable to some people, but a jury might see it as negligent, the court ruled. It allowed the suit to go forward. The court will probably cut a check to make the case go away.

Watch ‘how’ as well as ‘what’
Bottom line: Every project (and job task) has a series of known hazards. Make sure you know which ones they are, and watch to see how the workers respond to those hazards.

In this case, the supervisor rightly watched for PPE use and checked how the workers disposed of materials. But he didn’t go far enough – he needed to watch how they’d move the scaffold, too.

Cite: Kostrzewa v. Suffolk, No. 07-P-1450, Mass. App.

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