In a recent decision by the Supreme Court of Tennessee Special Workers' Compensation Appeals Panel, a work place injury was denied workers' compensation benefits because the employee failed to follow a safety procedure.
In that case, a construction worker was on a roof and was wearing the required safety harness when it got wrapped around his left leg. He continued working for three or four minutes with the cable around his leg, but then unhooked the cable to unwrap it. After unhooking, Employee accidentally stepped off of the roof, falling about eight feet. He was diagnosed with a "fractured hip socket, a completely obliterated pubic bone on the right side, and a non-displaced fracture of his right arm." Employer denied the worker comp claim based upon Tennessee Code Annotated 50-6-110. Specifically section A(4) stating: "(A) No compensation shall be allowed for an injury or death due to: (4) The employee's willful failure or refusal to use a safety device."
For an employer to be successful with such a denial, they must pass a test:
- The employee's actual, as opposed to constructive, notice of the rule.
- The employee's understanding of the danger involved in violating the rule.
- The employer's bona fide enforcement of the rule.
- The employee's lack of a valid excuse for violating the rule.
In the case at hand, the issue came with the 4th prong on whether the employee had a valid excuse for violating the rule of not using the safety harness. During the trial, Employee testified that he unhooked his cable because he felt it was safer to unhook and untangle rather than continue to be tangled; "to complete the job as quickly as possible." Employee admitted that he could have removed the cable from his leg by various means without unhooking his harness. The Court felt his explanation was not a valid excuse for violating a known safety rule when safer alternatives were available.
Worker compensation is a good thing and it is there for important reasons. As employers, it should be of most important objective to provide the employees with a safe work environment and to be able to have the employee cared for should such an accident happen resulting in injury. However, careless employees who create or cause their own danger should also hold some accountability. This is the point of this statute. A good take away here is to have solid safety policies, make them known to the employees, and the duty is on the employer to enforce these policies. If workers choose to not abide, then they will run the risk of not only the injury but compensation for the injury.
Case Cite: Damon Hawks v Lisa Christian, No. M2015-02200-SC-R#WC, June 20, 2016
Cartwright Law, LLC