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Business shuts down after material handling-related death; receives $100,000 fine

A company that closed its doors in the wake of a worker’s death has been issued a $100,000 fine for failing to comply with materials handling requirements under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA).

WSPS Consultant Troy Nel is not surprised that the company chose to close. “A death in the workplace puts a strain on any business, exposing them to liability related to fines, higher WSIB premiums, and more. It can also negatively affect morale, productivity, and loyalty."

The worker was killed after being struck by a slab of granite that tipped over while being removed from a storage rack. The company pleaded guilty to failing to ensure the stone slab was removed from the rack in a manner that would not endanger the safety of any worker, as per section 45(c) of Industrial Regulation 851

Troy looks at factors that may have led to the incident and offers 6 steps for prevention. But first, let’s look at the details of the incident. 

How the incident occurred

The worker and a company director went to the workplace yard to retrieve a 1,100 pound slab of granite stored on a wooden A-frame rack. The task required the use of a forklift equipped with a boom attachment and a suspended slab gripper, which would be attached to the top edge of the granite to lift it.

After manually pushing the top-most slab of granite off its resting position, the pair inserted a wooden 2’ x 4’ between the slab and the one beneath it.  While the director moved the forklift into position, the worker placed another 2’ x 4’ approximately half-way up to create a gap between the tops of the slabs. 

To attach the slab gripper, the worker stepped in front of the slab and onto the base of the A-frame. The granite slab tipped forward, striking the worker and causing fatal injuries.

What went wrong? 

“While this business followed certain steps when moving and lifting the granite slab, the focus seemed to be on protecting the slab, rather than the safety concerns associated with the task,” says Troy. “This could have been due to a poor understanding of the risks, insufficient safe operating procedures, untrained workers, complacency, lack of enforcement, rushing, and more.”

There were numerous red flags indicating that safety was not getting enough attention, says Troy.  

  • the slab was not secure

  • the worker was standing in harm’s way in front of the granite slab

  • a second 2’ x 4’ was inserted at the last minute, which could have affected the stability of the slab

  • a company director was driving the forklift instead of the regular driver 

  • the worker stepped onto the wooden A-frame, which presumably created a wobble that caused the slab to move into a vertical position

While it’s impossible to understand if or why these lapses occurred, Troy says 6 steps should have been taken to move safety to the forefront. 

6 steps to prevent incidents while moving heavy objects

  1. Always carry out a risk assessment. “A risk assessment is the first step before undertaking any high-risk activity,” says Troy. Involve workers and supervisors, ask questions, and brainstorm different scenarios. A risk assessment of the granite lifting task would have identified all the red flags in advance of the incident, says Troy. 

  2. Determine how to control the identified risks. For example, the company could have supported the slab weight with a strap or chain to prevent tipping (with workers always staying clear of the chain), attached the slab gripper from the opposite side of the A-frame, and provided instruction and signage to never stand on the A-frame.

  3. Develop formalized safe operating procedures for tasks. “These should clearly explain the risks, the controls the company has in place to mitigate risks, the required tools and PPE, and the step-by-step process for doing the job safely. “Spell out everything,” says Troy. “For example, don’t rely on a person’s ‘common sense’ to not stand in harm’s way.” Include the instructions in the safe working procedures. This will protect the worker and ensure you meet your OHSA legal requirements.”

  4. Provide proper training and enforce it. “Don’t let complacency creep in, and make sure workers are not skipping steps or rushing because the company is emphasizing productivity over safety.” 

  5. Encourage workers to report near misses. “A near miss is a free lesson,” says Troy. “It allows you to address a problem before something happens. Work hard to create a culture that is positive, non-judgemental and encouraging so workers have no fear when it comes to reporting close calls to their supervisor.”

  6. Review, review, review. Health and safety is about continuous improvement, says Troy. “Things can change over time. Perhaps, the soil underneath the rack becomes loose. Or the material has not been stacked properly.” Take the time to review, inspect, observe people doing their tasks, and adjust the process as needed.

How WSPS can help 

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