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Welcome and Warning

Taking responsibility for the safety of third-party visitors to your facilities.

September 13, 2012

4 Min Read
Welcome and Warning

By Matt Gartner, XL Specialty Insurance Co.

A lot of a facility’s safety management efforts focus on keeping employees safe. But what about others who pay a visit to a waste facility for even a short period of time?

Public visitors are a fact of life at many waste management facilities. Many companies manage facilities owned by a county or a municipality. As part of their bid, these companies are required to provide an area for residents to drop off waste at their owned site. Additionally, another enticing source of income for disposal or transfer sites is local contractors who stop by to drop off waste.

Once a waste company opens its gates to visitors, they take on the accompanying risks. Third party liability claims are a more common occurrence at waste facilities than one might expect. What if one of these visitors slips and falls while unloading their vehicle? In one recent claim, a man fell off a platform while unloading trash at a facility, resulting in $275,000 paid in losses. In another, $72,000 was paid in losses incurred following a slip and fall at a transfer station.

Under other visitor scenarios, a loader backed into a customer vehicle that resulted in $57,800 in damages. In another, $36,150 was paid in damages when a bulldozer at a landfill backed into a customer vehicle. And then there is the unthinkable. Seeing a headline that reads “Father Dies After Fall at Dump” certainly begs the question, can something be done differently?

As an old proverb advises, “A danger foreseen is half avoided.” That’s why liability loss prevention specifically geared at keeping visitors informed and aware of a site’s potential safety risks is critical to prevent injuries and avoid third-party claims.

In many cases site visitors receive little or no focus within a waste facility’s safety and health program. Unfortunately, many waste management companies have learned the hard way that risk of injuries to visitors (and the subsequent risk of third-party claims) should not be neglected. While a waste facility’s general liability (GL) insurance policy typically covers property damage and injury of a third party, establishing and implementing visitor safety policies and procedures will help facilities avoid financial losses or time-consuming lawsuits.

The first step is to develop visitor safety rules and procedures for visitors. The safety rules should be clearly communicated to the visitor and understood by employees. Requiring a visitor to review the safety rules and procedures upon signing in at the gate or office provides a means to communicate safety information and can also provide documentation that such information was communicated to the visitor.

In many cases the scale house operator is the “gatekeeper” to your site. That person may end up having 100 percent of your company’s interaction with the customer. A company should review its procedures with this employee. For example, is this individual trained to spot visitors new or unfamiliar with the site and are they capable of escorting visitors when necessary?

The next step is to make a reasonable effort to ensure that your facility complies with industry safety standards. A significant number of injuries arise in and around the drop-off area. Several factors can affect safe navigation of the drop-off area:

• Does the site have a dedicated drop-off site for the general public?
• Is it located away from the majority of the facility’s main operations?
• Has the facility defined a set traffic pattern to the drop-off site?
• How are you managing drop-off traffic (signs, flaggers, physical barriers, etc.)?

Regular walkthrough inspections of drop-off sites can help pinpoint risks on walking surfaces, trip and fall hazards, adequate egresses and issues around dumpsters. In spite of efforts with chain guards, cones and other warning signs, falls from a height are the usual culprit in significant waste facility injury cases. Visitors are often determined to chuck that heavy bucket of shingles or old garage door despite posted safety precautions. The result is that the customer finds himself at the bottom of the dumpster.

A possible solution is to eliminate height issues altogether, reconfiguring drop-off areas so that they are on a level surface. Maintaining a regular housekeeping schedule so waste doesn’t pile up in the area also is important. Signs and recorded video surveillance also are  helpful prevention measures to assure your customers have a safe visit.

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