Safety, Liability and Lawsuits, Oh My!
By now you’re probably aware of the industry’s virtual “stop” on table saw products due to the rash of table saw lawsuits hitting the industry (what we mean by that is that no one is terribly excited to bring any new models to market). While we’re not sure a “safer table saw” is even good for America, we can at the very least observe, with analysis, the lawsuits and issues arising over personal and workplace accidents. Take WCM Europe Limited of Basildon, a European company than was fined after a worker suffered a finger injury due to improper use of a circular saw. It tells us a lot of things:
The workplace is often dangerous. While we need to do everything we can to shore up our safety precautions, training and methods so as to prevent accidents, the likelihood is that someday it’s going to happen. The construction and manufacturing trades are inherently dangerous at times and it’s something every company owner has to come to grips with. With that said, the precaution is to put into place adequate training and insurance. The former puts an emphasis on the practices that will ensure the best possible safety, and the latter protects your company when those safety measures break down (or some employee decides to come to work drunk).
Supply the Right Tools for the Job
While we can’t make a real judgment call, the worker in the recent fine was using a circular saw to cut into a block of plastic at the company’s workshop. Was that the best tool for that job? It might have been, but the fact that the safety guard had been removed during a previous job tells us that they either didn’t have enough tools, or they may not have been using the correct tool for the particular job at the time. It also tells us that the injured worker wasn’t putting safety first either (and believe me, we don’t really think safety is ever actually “first”). This worker ended up getting his finger caught in the saw blade, which left him with permanent nerve damage. They also postulated that the slower blade speed was what prevented his middle finger from also being damaged.
Have a Plan to Handle These Events
To act as if no one will ever be injured on the job is silly. It’s a good idea to have a plan in place for when an emergency happens. Know where the hospitals are, set up a method of getting a worker to the emergency room, and have the necessary paperwork for medical coverage available and easy to access. Again, you don’t want to have these things happen, but you also don’t want a Louisiana-type response to a “Katrina” level accident. Have a plan.
The Truth Will Set You Free
Know that you will likely have to investigate how the accident came to be. As a business owner, we hate to say it, but the best possible outcome is to be in a position that you have done everything you can. That leaves user stupidity – which is simply going to happen from time to time. If you do everything right and a worker still gets hurt there’s not much you can do, but at least you know that you’ve put into place the best possible practices and training and you aren’t morally to blame… of course you can still get sued (and lose) but it’s a good thing to sleep well at night. In this case, the Health and Safety executive investigated how the accident occurred and discovered that a safety guard had been removed during a previous job and had not been refitted. Further investigation lead to the discovery that there wasn’t a ton of supervision or training. What happened next? HSE prosecuted the company.
Protect yourself and your workers. Implement safety procedures and best practices, train your workers, and have a plan to cover you when an accident does occur. This is the best possible way to protect your business and it’s the right thing to do.