A widow recently filed a wrongful death lawsuit over the fatal fall of her husband in the workplace. The news article tells a story all too familiar to me. What happened? The worker was standing on a mobile scaffold and installing tile. The mobile scaffold toppled backwards, causing the worker to fall.
Falls from heights are a leading cause of workplace fatalities. And, this new wrongful death case highlights another example of a fall that could have easily been prevented. In the last decade, I’ve represented numerous workers and their families involving work site falls. Falls from scissors lifts. Falls from scaffolds. Falls from other mobile platforms. Falls from unmarked openings. Falls from unstable support structures. I’ve had cases involving each of them. All these terrible fall accidents have a common issue — They all could have been prevented with a little advance safety planning by management. In every one of them, an accident altered the life of a worker and his/her family in an instant.
In the new wrongful death case, the widow alleges the scaffold equipment was not working properly. She also alleges the scaffold equipment did not come with written materials explaining proper operations. I’m not surprised. That’s a common issue. I’ve seen it in several of my fall injury cases. In my past cases, I’ve seen workers asked to operate complex mobile lifts at heights with zero training and zero instruction. I’ve seen workers asked to operate mobile lifts with no ground-level supervision or spotter. I’ve seen workers asked to operate mobile lifts with no consideration of co-workers moving around them on the site. Management simply ignored the risks.
I have long advocated for management to perform an Activity Hazard Analysis (also called a Job Hazard Analysis) before using new equipment or performing a new operation on site. Why would you perform any significant activities on a worksite without first safely planning the process? Certainly, management should perform an analysis before putting a worker at a dangerous height. A simple analysis could identify potential hazards and help the company plan for safety. It would only take a few minutes. Yet, management often neglects simple safety steps in favor of immediate production desires. Management chooses to put worker lives at risk. When the gamble fails, people suffer injury or death.
An Activity Hazard Analysis would not simply prevent falls. An analysis would prevent unsafe actions and potential accidents of all types. An analysis would help management identify potential hazards and answer important safety questions. These safety questions include:
Does the equipment or machinery function properly?
Is the operator properly trained, instructed or skilled in its operation?
Is the area surrounding the equipment safe for its operation?
Are co-workers in the area at risk of injury?
Does other nearby machinery, equipment or material present a danger?
Does another nearby ongoing process or work activity present a danger?
Are dangers associated with the subject equipment?
Are bystanders at risk of injury?
Where hazards are identified, management can plan for safety. Equipment maintenance. Operator training. Safety meetings. Warnings. Spotters/supervisors. Simple safety equipment. Barricades. Lockout/Tagout steps. A simple analysis of the process can easily identify the hazards. Then, management can take simple steps to prevent catastrophic injury or death. Worker safety is more important than a few minutes of lost productivity. It should be our top priority above everything else.
A little advance safety planning keeps workers alive and uninjured on job sites. The men and women who perform the hard work deserve managers who put their safety as the top priority.
At the Blackwell Law Firm, we have experience helping injured workers. We have helped injured workers in trials across Alabama. We also have trial experience pursuing the contractors who acted negligently or recklessly to cause personal injury. We hope our articles and posts answer some of your questions. We are also available for consultation. Consultations are always free and confidential.