A forklift operator was recently sentenced to 2 ½ years in prison for the forklift death of another contract worker at the Honda R&D Americas facility in Raymond, Ohio. The incident took place two years ago. When tragic incidents like this happen we need to ask what message should this verdict send to safety managers, supervisors and employers?
While we don’t have OSHA’s write-up, we can look at the facts as presented in the news story. The operator was known to drive through stop signs and drive forward when he had a load that blocked his view in front of the forklift. These two unsafe work practices are what lead to the accident. I would bet that everyone who has worked at a factory or warehouse for 2 years or more has seen this type of behavior at least once. And, that supervisors and managers know who the culprits are. The question is, what should companies do about this poor safety behavior? And, how long should the behavior be allowed to continue before effective intervention occurs?
Having been a safety manager, this story sent a chill up my spine. I hope it also sends a chill up the spine of every business owner, manager, supervisor and safety manager out there. Not because I enjoy seeing people sweat, but because too often I see companies on the surface claim “Safety First”, but behind the scenes they don’t always “walk the walk” by engaging their employees and contractors about safety and enforcing their own safe work practices.
Conversations about safety must occur regularly among hourly and management employees and contractors, training has to be up-to-date and relevant and safe work practices must be enforced consistently as part of every company’s culture. In this way, all employees are engaged in safety, and not just paying it lip service.
Research has shown us that employers who engage their employees and contractors about safety actually discourage poor behaviors and eliminate opportunities for preventable incidents like this one.
This is a chilling story and one that I hope never happens to any of our readers. But I also hope that it will serve as a reminder to everyone that if we as business managers let things go too far and don’t intervene, we can expect to see tragic incidents like this one happen again. I encourage everyone reading this article to download the news story and share it with supervisors and managers, and discuss the high personal loss for family and friends and the legal ramifications for individuals and the companies associated with the incident. And, ask the tough questions. How is our safety culture? Do we monitor effectively for unsafe work practices or unsafe conditions? How well do we interact with our contractors about safety? The local news story can be found here.