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Safety Management Insights

Safety Manager Liabilities: What You Need to Know

Posted by Don Brown on Oct 21, 2015 8:30:00 AM

safety-manager-liabilitiesWorker safety is of the utmost importance in the workplace and applies to any type of company. It is the company’s responsibility to provide safe working conditions and the safety manager’s responsibility to be the main point of contact for employees, especially those who work in hazardous environments, to ensure employee safety is a top priority. Safety managers must comply with OSHA requirements and can face fines, penalties and even criminal charges if they don’t.

One of the most recent cases of OSHA taking action for a violation occurred in August 2015 when Bumble Bee Seafoods’ former Safety Manager Saul Florez and plant Operations Director Angel Rodriguez each were charged with three counts of violating OSHA rules in the 2012 death of Jose Melena. Melena died in a pressure cooker that he was repairing when a coworker loaded the oven with six tons of tuna and turned it on.

The company violated OSHA guidelines by not having lockout tagout procedures that would have prevented the oven from being turned on with Melena inside. There also was no escape route for an employee to take in such a case, and there should have been a spotter—someone keeping watch when a worker was in a confined space.

While this is a rare prosecution of a workplace fatality, it is an inevitable outcome for those who do not follow safety protocol and an employee suffers serious injury or even death.

Here are three things to know about safety manager liabilities and responsibilities.

1. They must make sure all supervisors and managers have the appropriate safety training.

This includes accident prevention and investigation training. These supervisors and managers must be able to provide safety training for their employees, and the safety manager is responsible for ensuring all staff and team members are properly trained.

They must provide ongoing training to all employees as policies and procedures are updated.

Melena should have received training so he would know that it was unsafe to enter the oven without a co-worker present or without locking the oven to prevent it from being turned on while he was performing maintenance. As a result, Florez was held accountable.

2. They must comply with OSHA standards.

Safety managers are responsible for continuous monitoring for unsafe working conditions. If a safety or health hazard is detected, the safety manager must correct it. The safety manager also must continuously assess equipment for potential hazards.

The safety managers should have checked the Bumble Bee ovens to ensure they had lockout tagout capabilities. It is not clear whether the facility had this on their equipment or if Melena simply failed to use it, but lockout tagout is an OSHA requirement and should have been on their ovens—or used if it was on the ovens—to prevent this tragedy.

3. They must participate in the investigation of incidents.

Safety managers must determine the cause and a way to prevent a repeat incident. They also must identify any other hazardous situations associated with the incident and prevent unsafe actions.

While Florez and Rodriguez cooperated in the resulting investigation, their lack of safety prevention protocol cost them in criminal charges and fines, and ultimately cost a human life. They were responsible for monitoring and investigating any close calls in the area and were to recommend improvements to procedures and policies to prevent similar instances.

Per the agreement reached, Bumble Bee will plead guilty in 2017 to a misdemeanor of failing to provide adequate safety measures if it takes several safety actions, including providing additional employee training based on this incident and updating the ovens with lockout tagout properties. The tuna company agreed to a settlement of $6 million, the highest payout in California history for workplace safety violations. However, the entire situation could have been prevented with a few more safety policies actively in place. Safety is not something to take for granted; employees can be in dangerous situations on the job anytime, anywhere.

Not sure where to keep copies of all your safety procedures so that they are in one place for your safety manager? Contact us today.

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