Incidents are a part of life. Everywhere a person can be, they can potentially be subject to harm and injury. In society, specific regulations and rules exist for the explicit purpose of protecting people from danger. Controlling where a person may or may not go, regulating their actions in dangerous areas, or generally overseeing how individuals interact with their environment. In the workplace, this consideration is especially important, as the professional environment can often present far more dangers than one might anticipate.
To respond to such considerations, the Occupational Health and Safety standards were created, as a way to regulate how companies protect their employees. Alarmingly, not all workplaces are compliant with the legislation set in place, putting the health, physical and mental wellbeing of their workers at risk. One such occurrence could be seen in Toronto, Canada. The Purolator facility inside one of the Toronto municipalities has come into scrutiny because of the work accident in 2017. Jim Tilhoff, 58 was reported trying to fix a conveyor belt, ultimately becoming stuck and suffering a lethal injury. Jim was transported to the hospital by the police, where he was then pronounced dead (Purolator worker killed inside Etobicoke plant 2017).
The incident has occurred from 5 to 6 a.m. in the morning. The man was working an overnight shift, but was quite experienced in his field, having been considered a valuable part of the Purolator family. Subsequent investigations have found that access to some of the conveyor belts was not restricted, as per regulation, which might have prevented the occurrence of the event. Every conveyor belt must be equipped with guards, and their moving parts must be actively closed off during the operation of the conveyor belt. It is known for sure that the lack of suck protections was present in the case of Jim, although it is not guaranteed that their presence would have averted the tragedy. The event can be seen as an example of both employer negligence and worker misconduct, as both parties did not act in accordance with best safety practices or standards.
On the man’s behalf, he should not have tried to fix the jammed machinery while it was still in operation, which is a serious injury hazard and risk. At the corporate side of the problem, the organization should have taken more precautions to restrict access to the moving parts of the conveyor belt, and placed proper warnings nearby. The federal Ministry of Employment, Workplace Development and Labor has subsequently started an investigation into the company’s work and adherence to OHS.
While both the company and the ministry are unable to release any conclusive information, other parties involved with the company have been outspoken about the problems that can be found there (Dunn, 2017). An anonymous tipper has also alleged that the workplace environment of the company overlooks other safety considerations as well (Dunn, 2017). Temporary employees are not being instructed to wear gloves, and many of the conveyor belts are significantly overloaded.
It is hard to fully estimate the severity of this event, as multiple factors can be considered at play here. First of all, only one individual was involved in the incident. If more people would have been injured or connected with the event, it could have been much more impactful. However, it should also be noted that the incident proved to be lethal for its single participant, meaning that the level of potential danger and concern is high. A work incident that leaves its victims without their lives is the worst case scenario, for both the company and its employees. On a personal level, the occurrence has undoubtedly been devastating to the local community and the family of the victim. As seen by a number of posts online, many of the people in Jim’s life valued him dearly, and are saddened to see their loved one taken away by an incident as brutal as this (Torrance, 2017).
The man’s coworkers have also been deeply shocked by the occurrence and expressed their condolences in a public manner. From a moral standpoint, the event is inexcusable and unacceptable. Every person living in society and working should have the ability to lead a stable life and attain happiness. Organizations that work with people should use this consideration in their business, and direct action in a way that will contribute to the long-term prosperity of their employees. The gross mismanagement present in the Purolator workplace can be considered a serious moral issue, as an innocent person was killed due to another’s negligence and a lack of safety measures in place.
The company itself has issued a statement, but refused to comment on the results of the investigation or reach out to the victim’s family, which can be taken to signify their general disregard for the event. Despite being faced with both an investigation and a number of public allegations, the company has not made a move to change their safety policies, or public statements of improvement and recognition. For a wider community, the incident can serve as another reminder of the importance of occupational safety, as well as a warning against working with Purolator. Since the company has not been able to respond in a manner that shows their commitment to change, it is difficult to imagine that it will prevent such tragedies from happening again.
Jim’s tragic death has given rise to a number of safety concerns and allegations made against Purolator, improving the public awareness about the issue and hopefully saving people from suffering the same fate. It was noted by another senior worker at the company that the safety considerations employed are insufficient and lacking in several important areas. The weight of the incident was so high that a federal organization also got involved, investigating Purolator on the topic of safety violations.
While it is unknown if the company has taken both the concerns of the workers and the results of the investigation seriously, one can expect the public reaction to the event to be rather severe. Seeing from the local news, the financial impact of the event on the company itself has been minimal, as they have still managed to turn over a tremendous profit of 88$ million (Canada Post Group reports 2017 profit up as parcel business swells 2018). From the corporate side of things, the occurrence has not been particularly affective or change-evoking, but the same cannot be said for the victim’s family. Jim’s close ones have launched a crowdfunding effort near the time of his death, managing to gather more than 1,500$ in support of their cause (Cottrill, 2017).
Relevant OHS Considerations
There are a number of safety considerations that an employer should be considerate of in a case similar to Jim’s. In particular, regulations concerning machinery and moving parts should be consulted. A conveyor belt is one of the more straightforward cases of a moving mechanism, and safety protocols must take into account its functions, structure, potential maintenance and role in the work environment.
First, as a courier/delivery service, the company tightly works with conveyors, that are the main mechanism for transporting goods around the facility. This means that their utilization requires both constant surveillance and maintenance, and they are an irreplaceable part of the process. The machines must have the appropriate guards installed, as a way to limit the accessibility to spaces that present danger. However, some parts of the belt must be more approachable than others, and therefore free of risk or danger. Workers much have quick, safe and easy access to the parts of the conveyor that require fixing, or changing. To establish such a type of access, the employer must first introduce a hierarchy of control, one that allows them to actively identify potential risks and address their root causes (Preventing Machine Hazards).
There are a number of ways that occupational hazards can be combatted, first of which is elimination. By removing the prospect of danger from the process, the employer can safeguard their workers. An example could be the relocation of lubrication points and other maintenance areas away from the moving parts of the belt. The next approach would be substitution, which actively removes danger by switching harmful machinery with its less dangerous alternatives (Preventing Machine Hazards).
In the case of a conveyor belt, that would include the use of a belt that does not allow access to its dangerous moving parts, or one which design facilitates safe means of maintenance. The next safety regulation that should take place in the workplace is the use of engineering controls, which effectively means the installation of proper protection methods to safeguard the wellbeing of facility workers (Preventing Machine Hazards). As mentioned previously, in the case of Purolator, this would mean using guards on all of their conveyor belts, and making sure that they are kept up to the needed standards of quality. In terms of administration, some occupational health and safety changes also need to be made.
The tragedy has primarily occurred because a worker has attempted maintenance while the belt was still working, which is an extreme safety hazard and an instance that should not be allowed in a professional environment. A maintenance procedure must be established to stop the operation of a conveyor belt or any other machinery when a defect is found. One of the industry-standard ways of accomplishing that is the introduction of a lock-out tag-out procedure, which prohibits the machine from working while it presents danger to workers (Preventing Machine Hazards).
Lastly, protocols for the use of personal protective equipment must be formed. As noted by the anonymous worker, a portion of Purolator employees are not provided with protective gear, which increases the risk of accidents and does not comply with the need to safeguard the health and wellbeing of employees. Such personal protection devices as masks, uniforms, gloves must be provided in accordance with their need for a particular work position.
The tragedy that befell Jim Tilhoff’s family should not have happened, and should not have the room to repeat itself in the future. Precisely because of that, it is important to review some of the ways the event could have avoided. It is evident that some of the basic safety considerations were ignored in this incident, and using that fact as a basis, one can rather accurately identify proper points of change. Firstly, proper safety measures should have been present on the conveyor belt in question, as a way to direct proper worker response in the case of a malfunction, and prevent the potential victim from accessing the dangerous area of the machine.
The installation of a guard could have effectively forbidden Jim from trying to repair the working machine, and hopefully allowed him the time to devise a more safe plan of fixing the belt. In relation to this point, the workplace also needs to establish a working protocol for repairing machinery, based on the lock-out tag-out approach. This would allow workers to both know the correct way of directing their action, and ensure that their safety is taken into account. Education on the use of LOTO method can be a good way of introducing the concept to the staff, and making them understand its importance. On a connected note, the impact of Purolator’s work conditions should also not be overlooked.
The interviewed employee has confessed that the company seems to overload their conveyer belts, leading to increased strain on the mechanisms. An unaccounted pressure increases the chances of mechanisms breaking, and makes it necessary to repair them. Operating a conveyor belt within its normal capability is the primary way of not having to maintain it for longer periods of time. In the case of the victim, better operation of the conveyor belt could have extended its life cycle, leading to the whole incident being avoided. The possibility of preventing the event from happening entirely is a solid reminder of the importance proper procedure can hold in the workplace.
Another way of ensuring a more safe and regulated work environment would be to use an effective supervision system. A worker should never be allowed to handle a piece of machinery alone, or perform maintenance without proper supervision. The use of monitoring between employees both increases the security of the procedure, and ensures that if a problem is encountered, each person has the backing of another to help them.
On a separate note, it should also be taken into account that the victim was working a night shift, meaning that both his concentration and thinking must have been strained from staying awake for a long period of time. The need to address such a serious problem as a conveyor belt jam working a night shift is rather distressing. As a way to address this part of the problem, it might be necessary to introduce additional checks and security measures for machinery maintenance at night.
A protocol that requires workers to confirm their actions with supervisors, or coordinate in a joined effort may be effective. Overall, it must be said that the efforts to safeguard and protect the wellbeing of workers need to constantly be improved, as a way to guarantee the minimal amount of negative health outcomes on the job. People must be able to perform their duties without constantly facing the risk of serious injury, trauma, or even death. This is the reason why companies such as Purolator must both strive to improve their practices and be held accountable for their actions.
Purolator worker killed inside Etobicoke plant. CityNews Toronto. (2017). Web.
Dunn, T. (2017). ‘It shouldn’t have happened’: safety concern at Toronto Purolator facility after fatal incident | CBC News. CBCnews. Web.
Torrance, C. (2017). In Loving Memory of Jim Tilhoff. Web.
Cottrill, J. (2017). Federal investigation follows Purolator worker’s death. COHSN. Web.
Canada Post Group reports 2017 profit up as parcel business swells. CTVNews. (2018). Web.
Preventing Machine Hazards. Tripartite Alliance Limited. (n.d.). Web.