A federal court of appeals has confirmed two serious citations from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) against a fabrication shop when a 5,000 lb. pipe assembly was improperly rigged to an overhead crane. A pipefitter in the shop was a journey worker with 12 years of experience. While the supervisor was in the office, the pipefitter (with only one coworker to help) placed slings near the midpoint of the assembly and began hoisting it with an overhead crane. The assembly started to teeter and he tried to steady it with his hand. A weld broke and part of the assembly smashed his hand, resulting in the partial amputation of two of his fingers. OSHA cited the employer for two serious violations under its rules for general industry:
- Failing to have the load “well secured and properly balanced in the sling or lifting device before it is lifted more than a few inches,” and
- Failing to keep employees clear of loads that are suspended or about to be lifted.
The employer tried to argue that it shouldn’t be held liable because the supervisor didn’t see the improper rigging. OSHA and the court said it didn’t matter. The supervisor knew that lifting such a large assembly was a big job; he failed to gather a qualified team; and he failed to supervise the work. Also, no one had warned the pipefitter against touching a load while it was being lifted. With reasonable diligence, the employer should have known of the safety violation because it could have discovered or prevented it by publishing adequate work rules, conducting training, properly supervising workers, anticipating hazards, and taking steps to prevent violations.
Tips for Employers: Just because workers are experienced doesn’t mean they will follow proper safety protocols. Supervisors must actively monitor not only production but also safe work practices. Proper training is also key.
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