Employer Sued for Failure to Provide Adequate Training

Failure to adequately train employees concerning job safety is a serious omission that can get an employer into a lot of trouble. Here’s a lawsuit that makes the point.

A worker, who was not wearing work gloves when he was injured, sued his employer, claiming that the employer did not instruct him that wearing leather gloves was a mandatory safety precaution.

The employee started working for SMS Rail Lines in February 2006 as a boom truck operator and railroad track laborer. As required, he passed a written test before he could work on railroad tracks. He was taught how to set railroad track spikes during the on-the-job training.

At a daily staff meeting at the start of his shift on August 5, 2008, his assignment for the day was discussed. He’d be working with two other track laborers on building a new track-switch panel, off track, by using a 10-pound steel maul head to manually set .8-pound steel spikes 2 inches apart into treated hardwood railroad ties.

An independent contractor was delegated as foreman in charge of the jobsite, but the employee’s supervisor, an SMS employee, was ultimately responsible for safety.

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The Accident

When a steel spike shot out of the tie, it struck and cut the back of the employee’s left wrist. No one else witnessed the accident. The employee’s supervisor was about 5 miles away in the worksite trailer.

Even though SMS Rail Lines had provided PPE to all employees, including leather work gloves, the employee was not wearing them when he was injured.

Doctors determined that the employee needed surgery because of a severed tendon in his wrist, multiple extensor tendon lacerations, and laceration of the majority of his superficial radial nerve.

The company concluded that the accident and resulting injuries were solely the employee’s fault because he had not followed the company’s safety rules and procedures, which contained express and repeated instruction that employees were responsible for complying with all safety rules and instructions, including wearing assigned PPE and following specific rules for using a spike maul and setting and driving spikes.

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The employee  maintained that the company was at fault because it did not make him aware that wearing the gloves was mandatory. He noted that 6 months before the accident, his supervisor had instituted a practice of training new employees by having them watch a series of safety videos. But the employee, who’d already be on the job for 2 years, was not directed to watch the safety videos until after his accident.

Although the employee admitted receiving a copy of the company’s safety rules and procedures, he argued that the rules did not address setting spikes or the use of gloves and that the company did not have written rules regarding the use of gloves.

The employee filed suit against the company, alleging it had violated the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA). He sought compensatory damages for his injuries, past and future medical care, past and future mental and emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, and post and future lost earnings.

Check tomorrow’s Advisor to find out how the court ruled.

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