OSHA describes ‘most interesting cases’ at NSC Congress & Expo session

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Indianapolis – The cases of a fatal asthma attack, a crane boom collapse that almost killed eight people and an improperly secured 300-ton piece of equipment that cost a longshoreman his life just one month before retirement were highlighted Tuesday during “OSHA’s Most Interesting Cases” Technical Session at the 2017 National Safety Council Congress & Expo.

The asthma attack involved a worker in a malting operation who had a wheat dust allergy. Allen Grisar, assistant director for OSHA’s area office in Milwaukee, said the laborer had a significant asthma incident at work four months before his death that the victim’s company never investigated.

The company, which received multiple citations, also did not perform the proper maintenance on the ventilation/dust suppression system in the malting operation or look at the static pressure levels, Grisar said. The use of respiratory protection was not completely enforced, as employees were allowed to go without wearing it for brief periods.

“This was a very avoidable event that occurred,” Grisar said.

Near miss

Bill Cochran, director of OSHA’s Nashville area office, detailed the collapse of the crane boom onto a road near the Cumberland River. That boom struck a car that was traveling an estimated 40 mph. Cochran said the force knocked the engine 18 inches into the pavement.

“If that car had been going a little faster or if that boom fell a second earlier, that’s two dead people,” he said.

Six employees also barely avoided death when a boom cable broke. Cochran said daily inspections showed the need for a new boom cable. Instead, it sat on the worksite for two months and was not replaced despite employees’ repeated attempts to warn supervisors.

Cochran said the company had experienced previous fatalities and numerous willful violations. The OSHA willful violation was upheld in court despite the company’s attempts to engage in “verbal gymnastics,” Cochran said, using the judge’s words.

‘We could have saved a life’

As was usual procedure, an engineer developed a lift plan to get a blowout preventer – which stands about three-and-a-half stories tall – onto a vessel in Houston. The port captain and his chief mate inexplicably altered that plan, said Anita Schiflett, federal safety and health compliance officer at OSHA’s Houston north area office.

“The port captain and chief mate were not engineers. They just wanted to hurry up and get [the job] done,” Schiflett said. Instead of using the accustomed eye wires to secure the blowout preventer to the spreader bar above, the workers laid wires across two pins inside the bar. The constant rocking of the boat and other factors caused one of those pins to break off while longshoremen were working underneath the blowout preventer.

As a result, a 65-year-old worker was crushed and died.

Schiflett recommended that all workers be properly trained and companies should encourage them to use stop-work authority when necessary. She also encouraged more involvement in safety meetings, especially when multiple companies/employers are involved.

“We could have saved a life here,” Schiflett said.

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