By MALLORY GRUBEN
The City of Portland received a $3,750 fine for the workplace accident on Aug. 11 that sent a metal bar through one worker’s stomach, according to documents obtained by the Labor Press.
The accident seriously injured Laborers Local 483 member Rob Spears, who has worked in the city’s fleet services maintenance shop for 17 years. Spears was trying to remove a spring that got stuck in the spring channels of a 2007 roll-on/roll-off truck when the spring expanded and sent a 6-foot-long, 20-pound wrecking bar through his body. According to his family, Spears was walking a month after the accident, but his recovery will likely take at least a year.
The city reported the accident immediately to Oregon’s workplace safety agency, known as Oregon OSHA, which inspected the work site and interviewed workers in three sessions on Aug. 11, Sept. 18, and Oct. 4. Its investigation determined that workers had not been properly trained for how to safely work on vehicles with the potential for hazardous levels of stored energy, like a roll-on/roll-off truck with a spring-loaded mechanism. The city’s lock out/tag out procedures, or process for making sure all hazardous energy sources are controlled before working on a system, were last updated in 2012. Oregon OSHA also found that warning labels about the springs were covered in debris and difficult to read. At least two workers on Spears’ crew that day told interviewers the workers did not know whether the city had the service manual for the truck, so they didn’t consult one before doing the work.
“(Journeyman vehicle and equipment mechanic Jason) Bishop stated that in the 21 years he had been there, they had never worked on springs and that there was only one truck of this type in the fleet,” Oregon OSHA’s investigation report says.
Spears told interviewers that he would not have put the pry bar into the spring channel if he had known the spring on the truck was compressed, saw the posted warnings on the truck, had a copy of the manual with a diagram of the spring channel, or received more safety training.
Oregon OSHA issued the fine Oct. 12, and the city agreed to pay it, according to the documents. Although it is not required, Oregon OSHA also suggested the city more regularly review and update the lock out/tag out procedure for equipment with stored energy.
Since the accident, the city has gotten rid of the roll-on/roll off truck, said City Fleet Safety Coordinator Marvin Navarro. The city will also update its lock out/tag out procedures, make the maintenance manuals for all vehicles in its fleet available for workers and train workers on where to find them, and retrain all workers about how to report accidents and near-miss accidents, Navarro said.
“Obviously this was not a near miss, but it is a lesson learned for how we can prevent this in the future,” Navarro said. “Every employee has the right to feel safe and work in a safe environment, and that’s really what we want.”