Lack of Safety and Health Program Results in Death of MA Municipal Worker

On February 4, 2014, a 48-year-old male general foreman (victim) employed by a local municipal water department was fatally injured while repairing a water line break. The victim was inside an excavated hole located in a roadway with three other co-workers.

A backhoe loader was positioned near the trench with its outriggers extended and bucket attachment resting inside the dump section of a dump truck. The backhoe loader was unintentionally pulled forward when the dump truck was driven forward. As the backhoe loader was pulled forward, the outrigger on the right side struck the victim and dragged him out of the excavated hole. A police officer performing a traffic detail was on site and placed a call for emergency medical services (EMS). EMS, the fire department and the local and state police arrived at the incident location within minutes.  The victim was pronounced dead at the scene.

At the time of the incident, the department did not have a safety and health program. Workers were provided basic training and were also provided with personal protective equipment (PPE), including hearing and eye protection and high visibility safety apparel. At the time of the incident, the high- visibility safety vests being used were American National Standards Institute’s (ANSI) Class 2 compliant, but the department had already switched to Class 3 vests at the time of the site visit. All department employees, including the victim, held Commercial Drivers Licenses.

The Massachusetts Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation Project (FACE) Program concluded that to prevent similar occurrences in the future, employers should:

  • Ensure that when excavating equipment is not being used that the equipment is moved away from the excavation edge and all attachments are lowered to the ground before workers enter the excavation;
  • Ensure that before moving equipment located on work sites that the operator performs a walk around to warn workers on foot that the equipment will be moved and to identify potential obstacles;
  • Consider closing roadways when the work area is located in a roadway and there is limited space for the work area, and multiple large pieces of equipment are needed to complete tasks;
  • Develop, implement, and enforce a safety and health program that addresses hazard recognition and control and avoidance of unsafe conditions; and
  • Provide work environments for employees that, at a minimum, meet all relevant Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations and industry accepted standards of practice per the Department of Labor Standards.

The FACE Report stated, inter alia,  that “a safety and health program should include the systematic identification, evaluation, and prevention or control of general workplace hazards and the hazards of specific jobs and tasks.”