“Jimmy” hasn’t worked in seven years. He fell from a bucket truck in 2008 while installing a sign, severely injuring his back. Depressed and permanently disabled, he now sits in his house in a suburb of Chicago, popping pain pills and drinking too much too often. The husband of a friend’s friend, Jimmy’s story is true—and it’s not uncommon.
“Every day in America, 13 people go to work and never come home. Every year in America, nearly four million people suffer a workplace injury from which some may never recover,” US Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis said during a speech last April. That’s nearly 11,000 workers every day! “These are preventable tragedies that disable our workers, devastate our families, and damage our economy,” Solis noted. A significant number of these fatalities are associated with the use of cranes and derricks, primarily in construction, with electrocution being a major culprit.
While Jimmy’s injury wasn’t the result of horseplay, many workplace accidents are caused by employees goofing around. Earlier in my career, before I became a B2B magazine/website editor and writer, I sold new and used lift trucks for a brief period. One of the material-handling services this now defunct Yale dealership offered was driver certification and, as part of my training, I heard some crazy stories about safety violations and reckless behavior on the job: True tales of lazy union workers at convention centers who drove their trucks off steep, concrete docks, then called the service technician for repairs, rather than work on sunny summer days. There were the bored, idiotic third-shift drivers in rug factories who “jousted” on forklifts sporting 10-foot-long carpet-pole attachments. With one-ton weight capacities, these steel lances poked through warehouse walls and knocked down heavy-duty racking systems.
Today’s Internet surfers can view “Jackass” genre digital videos of incidents like this on YouTube, but safety is no laughing matter. The dangers of falls in the workplace are well documented. I was told of an inebriated order-picker truck operator on the night shift who somehow got strung up in ceiling rafters overnight, unable to call for help in the pre-cell phone era. When the warehouse manager walked in at 7 a.m. the next morning, the soon-to-be former employee was dangling by a safety harness, fast asleep. (Thankfully, he did not fall.)
Just last year, UK envelope printer First Class Post was fined £2,500 and ordered to pay £1,041 in costs for putting workers at risk by allowing them to be lifted nearly 20 feet in a plastic box perched atop a forklift during quarterly stock checks. In England alone from 2010 to 2011, 38 people died as a result of a workplace fall and more than 4,000 suffered a major injury from falls, reported Britain’s health and safety executive.
Out in the field, safety regulations have progressed quite far since Terex, a division of General Motors, created the first digger derrick in 1945 to dig holes for utility poles. (Source: Suite101.com) Digger derrick trucks equipped with a boom and bucket are used to lift and ground workers near power lines. While statistics are not yet available for 2012, in 2011 some 4,609 workers overall were killed on the job in the United States. If that number seems high, consider that in 1970—the year before the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was established by the US Department of Labor—the number of work-related deaths was nearly triple.
In late 2010, OSHA released an historic, new standard addressing the use of cranes and derricks. Some 15 years in the making, the “Cranes and Derricks in Construction Rule 29, CFR Part 1926,” considers the technological advances in equipment since the publication of the old rules 42 years ago.