By Darrel Canada
Starting on April 28 and continuing through May 2, 2014, the OSHA Training Institutes across the United States and its territories conducted free and reduced cost seminars in remembrance of all the employees who have lost their lives on the job.
I took an active role of teaching an OSHA 7405 class for Fall Protection Awareness in Albuquerque, N.M., at the DOT/Associated Contractors Facility as an instructor for the UT Arlington OTI Center. I had 30 students in the class who were eager to learn and participate. Before I go into those specifics, let me tell you about the trip getting there.
One of my associates from Abilene rode with me in the dust storm with winds blowing from 60-65 mph in some stretches of the 8-hour trip. There were a couple of rough patches of road where the dirt was blowing so thick across the highway that we weren’t able to see in front of the vehicle without coming to nearly a standstill. We saw many cars involved in wrecks and had to call 911 for some injured people between Roscoe and Snyder on Highway 84.
I watched in amazement as people would be driving 70-80 mph and their tail lights would disappear in a dark cloud of dirt, then reappear when they slammed on their brakes when their visibility went to zero. The combination of people driving erratically and misjudging other traffic, along with the reckless behavior and the human error factors, really made the driving conditions even more dangerous. Some people just can’t slow down without being forced to! I finally breathed a sigh of relief when we were able to check into our hotel rooms and we were safely at our destination.
The next day was still windy, but the dirt storm was not as bad in Albuquerque, because they have some mountains, green grass, and beautiful trees to hold the dirt down, unlike a lot of the west Texas areas that haven’t been planted with crops!
We arrived at the training facility and I started the class promptly at 8 a.m. After the introductions were complete, I explained to the students why OSHA sets aside one week a year in memory of the workers who have lost their lives on the job and why OSHA helps provide one day of free training. The UT Arlington OTI Center was credited with training 565 students across Region 6 for the day.
It was a pleasure seeing so many dedicated employers and employees taking part in this event. I don’t have the figures for how many people were trained nationwide or the amount of labor hours that employers allowed their employees to be a part of for this week, but it would have to be in the hundreds of thousands. When I do get the final numbers, I will pass those along, or feel free to check the www.osha.gov website to see announcements from OSHA.
My objectives were to impart knowledge of the following:
- Identifying factors that contribute to common fall hazards
- Explaining how to analyze work areas for fall hazards
- Discuss the hierachy of controls for fall hazards
- Describing OSHA regulations and resources that address fall protection
I explained to the group that a fall of 64 feet only takes two seconds because you fall 32 feet per second squared. That means that a person will be falling at a rate of about 120 mph—I actually have people tell me that they will catch themselves if they start to fall! If they survive the fall, they realize their error in judgment will still change their life forever. Especially when they face a series of surgeries or they have a multitude of broken bones, some of which may have to be replaced with titanium rods.
During my investigations, I have watched families endure through hardships of watching a loved one suffer through the intensive care unit. Bills pile up because the dad is now only getting 60 percent of their income—if, that is, the employer had worker’s compensation insurance—and families can lose everything in 2 to 6 months when they are denied benefits for some unforeseen reason. I have watched the ripple effect that takes place when the injured person dies or the families split up because of the pressure placed on them. It affects the spouse, kids, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, co-workers, employers, and the clients. The care for injuries related to falls is an emotional and financial burden for the families and the industries involved.
Falls consistently account for the greatest number of fatalities in the construction industry each year and are known as one of the Focus Four at OSHA. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that in 2004 there was a total of 1,224 workplace fatalities that resulted from falls. The students’ eyes were opened when I gave them the following case study involving a fatality and the ensuing lawsuits that followed the employers for 11 years. The case is under No.99-0793 and went all the way to the Texas Supreme Court for a hearing. The Texas Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s ruling against the general contractor.
In this particular case the general contractor was found to be liable for the safety of the sub-contractor’s employees as well as their own. The jury found actual damages of $500,000 for the deceased employee, $1.7 million for the widow, $1.5 million for the daughter, $1 million for the son, and $200,000 for his parents. The jury also set punitive damages at $5 million. The trial court rendered judgement on the verdict for actual and punitive damages and interest totaling $12,920,461.60 dollars. It took 11 years for the family to allow that some semblance of justice was done for their dad losing his life on the job.
In the meantime, it is every employer’s responsibility and liability to provide the proper training and personal protective equipment for their employees and/or subcontractors. Ignorance of the law is no excuse for any employer doing business and receiving compensation for putting the lives of their employees in jeopardy. How much is your life really worth?
We finished the class going over Subpart M for fall protection, scaffolding regulations, stairway and ladders, and how to properly put on and take off harnesses and lanyards. The students asked questions and every single one of them participated in the group activities. All in all, the students walked away with more knowledge than they arrived with about fall protection and we met all of the objectives. Who knows, we may have helped to save someone’s life and some family a lot of grief in the future because of the free OSHA classes offered. Stay safe out there and take care of each other!
Darrel Canada is president and Master Trainer at Canada and Associates Safety Training LLC, based in Abilene, Texas, with offices also in Snyder, Midland, and Carrizo Springs, Texas. Find them at canada-associates.com.