For longshoremen who load and offload timber in the upper Northwest, every ship that sails into port carries a reminder of the litany of hazards they face at work. Loads of extremely heavy logs must be handled carefully to avoid serious and potentially fatal injuries. At the same time, employers must take all necessary steps to ensure the work area is free of avoidable hazards - a lesson apparently lost on a Seattle-based cargo handling company following the June 2016 death of a 48-year-old longshoreman.
Jim Meadows was employed by SSA Pacific when he suffered fatal injuries after he fell 10 feet onto the metal deck of the Forest Trader, a 21,000-ton bulk carrier cargo ship registered in Panama.
OSHA has cited his employer for willfully failing to protect its workers from falls into hatches and cargo holds. The citations follow an agency investigation prompted by Meadows' death. Agency inspectors who boarded the vessel found numerous hazardous areas where no netting or fall protection measures existed.
"Jim Meadows death was preventable, if only a few commonsense measures had been taken to prevent his fall and to protect his coworkers," said Galen Blanton, OSHA regional administrator in Seattle. "OSHA has cited SSA Pacific for similar violations in Oregon and Florida in the past three years in the hopes of avoiding a tragedy like this. Every employer has a solemn duty to make sure its workers return home safely at the end of every shift."
Despite OSHA guidelines that clearly recommend fall protection measures, such as netting and temporary platforms, to protect workers, SSA management claimed the crews used "buddy systems" with spotters to warn one another when one of them was working too close to hatches or risked falling overboard when securing loads of logs. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union challenged the claim that a spotter system was in place.
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