Late last week The Oregonian carried a report about an industrial accident in Canby that raises serious Oregon employer liability law questions. According to the newspaper a 55-year old Silverton man died “after a 1,600-pound steel plate fell from a clamp” and landed on him.
Colleagues rushed to help the stricken man, lifting the plate and administering CPR, according to the newspaper. First responders initially called for an air ambulance “just minutes later, however, firefighters cancelled the helicopter and called for a medical examiner.” The state’s Occupational Safety and Health Division has opened an investigation into the incident, but one of its most worrisome aspects, based on what we currently know, is the fact that the steel-fabrication plant in question had been cited “for three ‘serious’ violations in the last few years. This trend is particularly troubling because it is relatively new. The plant in question has operated since the 1960s, but all three of its safety citations have come in the last five years.
This raises a number of potential Oregon employer liability law issues. Oregon Revised Statutes, section 654.010, requires employers to “furnish employment and a place of employment which are safe and healthful for employees.” To achieve this employers are required to “adopt and use such practices, means, methods, operations and processes as are reasonably necessary to render such employment and place of employment safe and healthful.” Simply put, this requires employers to do everything they reasonably can to keep a workplace safe, even for workers in potentially high-risk jobs.
Several related statutes supplement and expand on these duties. 654.020 makes it a crime for anyone – companies or even employees acting on their own – to “remove, displace, damage, destroy or carry off any safety device or safeguard.” Section 654.022 requires that owners, employers and employees alike comply with safety codes.
In short, providing a safe workplace is one of the most basic obligations for any employer. We can all acknowledge that some jobs are more dangerous than others, but that fact alone does not exempt an employer from the responsibility to take every reasonable precaution to protect staff and visitors. One also has to ask whether, in cases like these, government regulation is sufficiently strong to accomplish its purpose. According to The Oregonian the three “serious” violations cited at the plant garnered a total of $530 in fines. It is reasonable to ask whether such small sums are sufficient to deter a negligent employer and give them an appropriate incentive to maintain their facilities and procedures in the ways that both the law and common sense require.
As a Portland employer liability attorney situations like these are something I encounter all too frequently. We should be thankful that workers are protected by laws that demand both proper conduct and accountability from employers, and that our courts are here to enforce those laws.