OSHA Top 10 Violations Cited In 2014
|Your training programs make the difference between safe workers and injured workers. They can also protect you from liability. Here’s a case in point.|
|“Brendan” worked for a chemical company for 30 years before he was injured. A mechanic, Brendan was hurt when he and another employee tried to replace three broken drive belts on a blending blower. Three fingers on Brendan’s right hand were injured when they were pinched between the drive belt and a pulley.The incident occurred after the two workers had cut the electrical power to the blower. But they had failed to eliminate the reverse airflow to the equipment. Although the pulley continued to rotate, neither Brendan nor his co-worker shut off the air valve to the blower or asked a supervisor for help. Instead they inserted an aluminum broom handle into the machine to stop the pulley from rotating.
Shortly after Brendan started working on the blower, the broom handle broke, the pulley began to move, and his hand was pulled into the blower.
During the previous 12 years, Brendan had received training on the company’s lockout rules 10 times. The most recent training had taken place 1 month before the injury, when he successfully completed a multiple choice test on those safety rules after the training session.
Employer Opposes WC Claim
When Brendan filed for workers’ compensation benefits, the company opposed the claim, saying the employee had caused his own injury because he did not follow safety rules with which he was thoroughly familiar after years of training.
The administrative law judge agreed and reduced the workers’ comp award by more than a third. Under Missouri law, workers’ comp awards can be reduced 25 to 50 percent if:
- A worker fails to obey a reasonable safety rule of which he or she had knowledge
- The employer made a reasonable effort to cause the employee to obey the rule
The employee appealed the ruling to the Missouri Court of Appeals.
What the Court Said
The appeals court rejected the employee’s challenge to the reduction in benefits, saying:
“[S]ubstantial evidence in the record supports the Commission’s determination that [the employer] made reasonable efforts to cause employee compliance with its lockout rules. [The employer] distributed written safety materials and conducted regular safety training seminars educating employees concerning the rules, and warning them that ‘[d]isciplinary action will be taken if employees fail to follow necessary guidelines…up to and including termination.’
“Training records revealed that [Brendan] received almost annual training on these rules…and successfully completed a written test to confirm his understanding of those rules.
“This supports the Commission’s conclusion that [the employer’s] lockout rules were not simply ‘on the books,’ and ‘dusted off’…. [E]mployees were actively and repeatedly trained on these rules, and they were warned of discipline up to and including termination if they failed to comply.”
Although this case deals specifically with Missouri state law, it serves as a good reminder to all employers about the need to train workers on safety rules and to document both their completion of training courses and their understanding of the material covered.