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Law judge vacates fine against defense contractor for stacked crates injury

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An administrative law judge of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission vacated a defense contractor’s safety citation and proposed fine after determining officials could not prove negligence in a case involving a stack of heavy boxes containing vehicle parts that fell on a worker.

On Oct. 3, 2016, a warehouse employee of Sterling Heights, Michigan-based General Dynamics Land Systems Inc. was seriously injured when seven crates containing 94-pound struts fell on him from a stack as he was inventorying them, according to the ruling.

There were no witnesses to the accident and the injured employee has no memory of the event, as he was found unconscious and suffered serious injuries, including head trauma and a broken leg, the record states.

A subsequent inspection conducted by a U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration compliance safety and health officer concluded that the accident was caused by “the instability of the stack of crates,” violating safety standards that require boxes stacked higher than 10 feet to be wrapped or secured, according to the ruling.

OSHA issued a citation alleging a serious violation for failure to ensure the stack of crates was stable, for which a penalty of $9,234 was proposed. GDL timely contested the citation, bringing the matter before the review commission.

The administrative law judge vacated the citation after finding that the Secretary of Labor failed to prove that the employer knew or with the exercise of reasonable diligence could have known about the hazard.

“Although a storage facility, GDL’s warehouse is a dynamic environment,” the judge said. “Material is received, moved to storage, ordered, pulled or picked, and shipped out. It is inevitable the condition of stacks will change. The evidence establishes the inventory control process results in frequent observation of the stacks by employees. The secretary contends the process of restacking crates to ensure their stability was an almost daily occurrence. The record contains no evidence of prior falls, slips, or collapses of any stack due to instability.”

The administrative law judge’s decision became a final order of the review commission on Wednesday.

The company could not be immediately reached for comment.