Cascading safety failures: 7 lessons to help prevent injuries or fatalities

Sep 04, 2015

Cascading safety effectAt some point, every workplace will have contractors performing work on site. Mostly they work safely and productively. But a recent incident in which a contractor's employee fell to his death and a co-worker sustained injuries shows how a cascading series of failures can have devastating effects. WSPS consultant Lois Weeks offers seven takeaways from this tragic and preventable incident. But first, here's what happened.

The incident

The contractors' two workers were in a scissor lift, a self-propelled elevating work platform to insulate an overhead water pipe in a client's workplace. The firm had two of their own site superintendents supervising the project.

The workers started in a mechanical room, following the pipe into a garage space with an overhead door. When open, the door rested on tracks above an entry bay. This was blocking the insulation work. One of the two site superintendents told them not to go near the door, only the client's employees could operate any mechanical equipment, and he would make arrangements with a designated client contact.

More than two hours later, the designated client contact still hadn't appeared. The two contract workers asked a client employee to lower the door halfway. The employee neither locked out the lowered door nor consulted the designated contact.

The contractors' workers moved the scissor lift into a position behind the door and continued working. Soon after, a client employee going through the open doorway triggered an electronic eye. The door rose, striking the scissor lift. A client employee pressed a stop button, but the door didn't stop in time to prevent the scissor lift from toppling over. A subsequent investigation revealed that the door may have started malfunctioning up to two weeks earlier.

Both contract workers fell 20 feet to the concrete floor. One suffered head injuries and died several days later. The other suffered broken bones. In a Ministry of Labour prosecution, the general contracting firm was fined $125,000; the firm's two supervisors, $4,000 each.

7 lessons to learn from incidents like this

Network News asked WSPS consultant Lois Weeks what lessons employers can apply to their own workplace. Here's what she said:

  1. Understand who's responsible for what. When you hire a contractor, you may become the contractor's employer and assume responsibility for them under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. This includes everything from making sure the contractor has the right qualifications to making sure the work is completed safely.
  2. Ensure everyone involved in the contracted work is clear on what each of the parties involved is responsible for.
  3. Ensure everyone in your workplace, contractors' employees included, understands the scope and limitations of their responsibilities.
  4. Assess and communicate all the hazards of the work involved to affected supervisors and workers. Ensure everyone involved understands the applicable legal requirements for the work being performed, as there are variations between industrial and construction requirements. Then ensure everyone, including contractors' employees, have the hazard-specific training needed to do their jobs safely.
  5. Ensure supervisors and contractors provide a level of supervision that reflects the hazards of the work being done.
  6. Promote a health and safety culture in which everyone is encouraged to report safety concerns. Respond to these concerns promptly.
  7. Encourage people to conduct mini-hazard assessments throughout their workday: 'What could go wrong and how do I mitigate that risk?'

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