When workers and employers do not take the right steps to ensure safety, there is no question that bad things can happen. Here are five crazy US workplace accidents, and some employer tips on avoiding similar fates:
1. Attack of the Killer Whale: SeaWorld
In 2010, a Florida SeaWorld trainer was killed by a killer whale. SeaWorld tried to argue that the inherent danger of the job should keep it from paying the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fines that followed. The court disagreed with SeaWorld.
Employer Tip: Do not think that just because an employee knows a job is dangerous, and perhaps even fatal, and does it anyway, that you as the employer are off the hook for injuries or deaths. Perform job hazard analyses. If a job is dangerous, train workers and perhaps find other means of carrying out your business.
2. Rat on Fire: United Novelty
In the late 1940’s, a Pennsylvania United Novelty employee was cleaning a coin-operated machine with gasoline. A rat ran under the machine, where it was covered in gas; then ran under a heater, where it caught on fire; and finally ran back under the machine, where it caused the whole thing to catch on fire. The employee did not survive.
The employer claimed that it told the employee not to clean the machine with gas, but it had nothing to prove this was the case. Therefore, the court took this as evidence that the employer foresaw the event but not as proof that they actually gave a warning to the employee. The court ruled against the employer in a wrongful death suit.
Employer Tip: It is not enough to train employees and warn them of the potential dangers of not following safety rules: document and enforce those trainings and statements! If something bad happens at your workplace, don’t let a ‘he said, she said’ debate determine liability.
3. Cows and Compensation: Glasbern Inn
A few years ago, the Pennsylvania-based Glasbern Inn – whose claim to fame is a “farm-to-table” experience that requires an on-site farm with livestock – had an employee assist a cow giving birth. The new mama then charged, causing serious spinal damage to the employee.
The inn had a problem: its workers’ compensation insurance carrier claimed that it was unaware cows were anywhere near the property. As a result, they refused to pay. The carrier won the subsequent suit, and the inn wants to appeal. However, to pay for the appeal costs, the owners would need to sell part of the farm – with cows. So, even if they end up winning, they will have lost valuable time and property.
Employer Tip: Make sure you are being completely transparent with your worker’s compensation carriers. Even if an omission is accidental, it can come back to haunt you.
4. Being a Hog: Oregon Farmer
One morning, an Oregon farmer went out to feed his hogs, some of whom weighed close to 700 pounds. When hours later he still had not returned, family members went to find him. They found parts of him, but most of him had been eaten by the hogs. While it is not clear exactly what happened, what is clear is that the family lost a valuable member of their family and their business.
Employer Tip: This example refers to a family farm, but a personal farm is a workplace, and while other family farms might want to use this tip, bigger, more traditional workplaces can learn from this farmer’s mistake as well.
When you are updating or creating your safety plan, consider making a policy that requires at least two people at jobsites where tasks are especially dangerous. That way, if something happens, there is someone to call for or offer help.
5. Cowboy Down: Ghost Town
When an employee of the North Carolina amusement park, Ghost Town, took to the stage to perform his role of gunslinger, he did not expect to be really shot. One day, however, something went wrong, and the gun shooting blanks actually caused an injury.
What happened? Who knows! Among the many controversies in this story is just how the injury occurred. One probable theory is that he was shot by the wadding in the gun. However, no one can say for sure because the doctors that examined the employee threw whatever it was away.
Employer Tip: Let medical professionals know that you are going to want the bullet that shot your employee. When an accident does happen, you are going to need to save all potential evidence.