Chain of Thought

Fate's Often our Cruelest Teacher

There isn't much an OSHA inspector hasn't seen when it comes to on-the-job accidents. But in the case of that worker I told you about in my last blog who was killed when an automated guided vehicle pinned him against a racking system, even OSHA's media relations director Scott Allen admitted that was a new one.

“The inspection was opened the same day it happened, and our CSHO [compliance safety and health officer] has been back several times gathering information,” Allen informed me when I contacted him to learn more. “We have not had this type of event before.”

While checking into this for me to find precedents, he did find one 5a1 citation regarding a laser guided vehicle (LGV) in North Carolina and two other 5a1s at the same site in New York in 2001 for AGVs. A 5a1 refers to the General Duty Clause which states that employers shall furnish to each employee a place that is free from recognized hazards “likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees.”

OSHA states that a CSHO must document four elements for each potential violation:

1) That a hazard exists;

2) That employees are exposed to the hazard;

3) That the employer knew, or should have know with the exercise of reasonable diligence, of conditions that exposed the employees to the hazard; and

4) That a feasible means of abatement exists to protect employees.

When accidents happen with lift trucks, a common cause is poor, little or no training. Whether that was the problem in the case of this AGV incident is yet to be determined. However, it's safe to say that employer-provided training—done right—is a substantial time and money investment. Many workers come to distribution center jobs as blank slates. Al Will, a retired Marine and a member of MH&L's editorial advisory board, saw this as an opportunity to meet a need.

During our recent Editorial Advisory Board Roundtable, which we'll feature in MH&L's September issue, Will told us about a program he tried to develop at the community college level to build entry level skills for distribution center workers. This included industrial truck training as well as basic warehouse layout, picks and stores, and how to use wireless hand-held devices. The program would culminate with the practical application of these skills at an employer site. Will said staffing companies get calls for workers with such skills all the time but it's getting harder and harder to find them.

Will got as far as attaining a grant to purchase the equipment and building a laboratory in which the equipment could be applied, but he met resistance at the community college level.

“The community college is so focused on academic credits, my focus was to get the warehouse and distribution skills training course done which was the biggest piece of it, but the academic side wanted to add credit hours so it stretched out over a semester. They wanted to add business 101 plus team building to it so students could go on for an associate's degree.”

That ran counter to the need Will was trying to meet—which was for someone who could be trained in a very short period of time.

“The employer doesn't care about the credit hours, and actually the student doesn't either,” Will continued. “We had a wonderful opportunity to create a regional training center where we could incorporate community colleges, and combine a tractor trailer driving course with it so students could see what it is actually like to back that thing in, and then run forklifts in and out of a 52-foot trailer.”

Where material handling is concerned, to really understand how forklifts or AGVs behave, you have to work with them. But as that AGV tragedy teaches us, even experience is no guarantee that fate won't step in to teach a bigger, more painful lesson. In the case of that Kraft plant worker, the lesson will have to be learned by his fellow workers and his employer. If that training takes, let's hope what happened there will remain a rarity.

Related Editorial:

Death by AGV is a Tragic Surprise

You're Not Crazy. Those Machines ARE Talking.

Occupational Safety: Buck Routine and Postpone the Last Roundup

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