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A Work Site Without Safety Planning Is An Accident Waiting To Happen

A Work Site Without Safety Planning Is An Accident Waiting To Happen

Last week, I read an article titled:

$2M Crane Incident Could Have Been Avoided With Use Of A Spotter

Before I discuss the article, I’ll start by saying nobody was hurt. Thankfully. The accident only involved damage to expensive equipment.

The value of a human life is priceless. And, the cost of a serious injury or disability is something far, far worse than the property damage in that case. For over two decades, I’ve been helping families deal with the cost of a serious injury or disability. I’ve seen the toll on the injured person, his or her spouse, and their children. So, thankfully, the crane did not hurt anyone.

I still thought the article was interesting because the industrial crane accident was investigated by the National Transportation Safety Bureau (NTSB). At the time of the accident, the crane was on a highway infrastructure project in another state. If you live around Huntsville, you’ve likely seen cranes downtown or along one of our many highway infrastructure projects as well. In recent months, I’ve seen numerous streets in downtown Huntsville temporarily blocked to move or use large construction equipment.

What happened to the crane in this article? At the time of the accident, the crane was sitting on a barge where it was being used on a road-tunnel project. The operator was moving the crane along the deck of the barge. But, the contractor did not provide any spotter. None! During this process, the operator moved the crane too far and it tipped over. The operator jumped from his cab just before the entire machine fell off the barge. The expensive equipment was a total loss but the operator survived without injury.

After investigating the accident, the NTSB discovered some dangerous safety issues. First, the contractor had no spotter (although required by company policies). Second, the contractor did not have processes in place to ensure its workers were acting safely with equipment.

These are some big safety issues. I’ve dealt with crane and lift collapses in several prior cases. Several years ago, I represented a worker on Redstone Arsenal who suffered a total disability when his scissors lift toppled while being moved. In that case, the contractor had no safety processes and no spotter. I mean none. During the case, we obtained the entire file and it contained no site specific safety plan and no safety documents related to the scissors lift or processes. Yet, the company still put its workers in moving, extended lifts. What kind of company would do NO site safety plan or NO plan involving the dangerous equipment being used? What kind of company would expose workers to such massive safety issues without some advance planning?

I’m also reminded of a couple cases in Decatur. In one, an overhead crane crashed into an extended scissor lift at a manufacturing plant. The scissors lift toppled and two electrical workers suffered horrific injuries. In that case, the plant was operating both pieces of equipment around each other with no safety planning, no instructions to workers, no lock-out / tag-out, and no spotter. It was a disaster waiting to happen. The entire disaster was made worse when the company tried to conceal all its safety violations.

In the other Decatur case, a worker on a scissors lift had to jump when the building around him caught on fire. At the time of the accident, the contractor had a worker on a scissors lift dismantling the top sections of an old building. The building caught on fire. When it did, the worker discovered the fire extinguisher on the lift did not work. And, the lift would not retract. So, he had to jump. He suffered some pretty serious spine and leg injuries. But, he lived.

Every construction or industrial site needs some advance safety planning. I’ve written numerous articles about the benefit of an advance analysis of the site and equipment. Many safety professionals call this a Job Hazard Analysis or Activity Hazard Analysis. Regardless, it’s pretty easy for the contractor to have a safety person look at the site, the equipment and the processes in order to do some simple planning. It’s also pretty simple to have a spotter, especially when guys are working with equipment at heights. Take a look at the photograph with this blog. Why would any contractor put its workers in extended lifts without making safety a priority? Every single contractor should take the time to ensure their site is safe. Every single contractor should put its people over immediate profits!