Companies are responsible for making sure their employees have safe working environments. Once a company has been cited for failing to provide the proper safeguards, it’s expected that the company will make appropriate changes to ensure future safety. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen.
Such was allegedly the case with Material Handling Systems/MHS Technical Services, a Louisville, Kentucky company who was under contract with United Parcel Service at an Addison, Illinois site. MHS was removing the existing conveyor system and replacing it with a new high-speed system. The company had been previously cited at the same job site in October 2015 for failing to protect their workers from fall hazards. Allegedly, the company failed to make the recommended changes, and as a result, a 42-year-old employee fell 22 feet to his death on February 9, 2016.
Louisville Company Cited for Exposing Workers to Fall Hazards
Another employee suffered a fall while working for the same company in 2014. Fortunately, he survived the incident, though he suffered serious injuries. After the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigated the incident, it cited Material Handling Systems for fall protection violations. The company had received similar citations in 2009 in Oregon and in 2012 in Florida.
This time, however, the employee died. OSHA investigated, and on July 29, 2016, cited the employer for three egregious, willful violations for exposing workers to falls of over six feet. OSHA also cited MHS for three repeated and three serious safety violations.
Some of the problems the investigators found included workers exposed to far falls while working on raised surfaces that were unprotected, workers walking on surfaces that had not been tested to be sure they could support employees, and workers using combustible polyethylene tarp while welding, which is a fire hazard.
Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor of Occupational Safety and Health, stated that the employee was dead because the company broke the law repeatedly, even at the same working site. OSHA requested that other companies working with MHS “take strong steps to ensure that this employer protects its employees, and terminate its contracts if this employer continues to violate OSHA regulations.”
MHS faces a proposed penalty of $320,400. They have 15 days from receipt of the citations to comply or contest the findings.
OSHA Working to Raise Awareness of Fall Hazards
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of falls, trips, and slips increased 10% between 2013 and 2014, and the number of construction fatalities rose to the highest reported total since 2008.
OSHA, well aware of the serious dangers that falls present, has an ongoing Fall Prevention Campaign developed with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and NIOSH’s National Occupational Research Agenda program. It aims to increase awareness among employers and workers about fall hazards, particularly from ladders, scaffolds, and roofs.
Falls can generally be prevented with three simple steps: 1) plan, 2) provide, and 3) train. OSHA encourages employers to plan to ensure each job is done safely, provide the right safety equipment, and train everyone how to use that equipment properly.
Workers deserve to be able to do their jobs in a safe environment. Companies that refuse to provide such environments need to be held accountable for putting workers at unnecessary risk of injury and death.