The family of a worker killed on the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority's (Sound Transit) $3.7 billion East Link light-rail project in the Seattle area is suing manufacturer 3M, alleging the company's lifeline product failed and did not protect construction worker Walter Burrows from a 35-foot fall on May 22, 2018. Burrows survived the fall but died from his injuries later that day at the hospital.
The lawsuit claims Burrows' employer, Kiewit-Hoffman East Link Constructors (Kiewit), instructed Burrows to wear 3M's DBI SALA Nano-Lok Self-Retracting Lifeline, relying on the representations that 3M made about the safety device in its promotional and training materials.
The plaintiff alleges that Burrows used the equipment correctly by attaching the lifeline to both a secured anchor point on the elevated platform where he was working and to his safety harness.
Even so, according to the complaint, the lifeline, which is supposed to detect a rapid descent and arrest it, did not work in stopping Burrows' fall but was severed on the beveled concrete edge of his platform.
The Burrows' attorneys allege that 3M never indicated that the lifeline could pose a danger to workers on or near a beveled edge. The Maplewood, Minnesota-based multinational conglomerate has denied all allegations implying that the company or its product is at fault. The jury trial is set for March 21, 2021.
3M goes on to say in its answer to the Burrows' complaint that if there is fault, then the responsibility for the accident should lie with:
- Kiewit, for not providing Burrows with the proper safety training, equipment and instruction.
- Sound Transit for not maintaining a safe jobsite.
- Burrows' co-workers and supervisors for contributing to an unsafe environment.
- Contractors and subcontractors that might have contributed to an unsafe jobsite.
- Any third-party that failed to provide Burrows with the proper fall protection equipment.
- Burrows for failing to select the correct equipment.
- Unnamed manufacturers, suppliers or distributors whose products contributed to the accident.
In September 2019, more than a year after the accident, the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries' (L&I) Division of Occupational Safety and Health issued a hazard alert about using lifelines near sharp or abrasive edges, seemingly referencing the Burrows accident and possibly to another fatal accident that occurred after a falling worker's self-retracting lifeline was cut by a metal edge.
In the alert, L&I said that both manufacturers had warned about using the products around edges that could damage the lifeline or prevent it from arresting a fall. L&I said both self-retracting and non-self-retracting lifelines could be damaged by an abrasive or sharp edge.
The department issued the following steps contractors should take to make sure their workers are protected when near any open side or edge of a floor, roof, deck, platform or formwork:
- During walk-around safety inspections, identify and document all potentially hazardous edges near that could damage lifelines, and avoid working in those areas if possible.
- When possible, anchor lifelines overhead to keep them from contacting an edge and to prevent swing falls that can force lifelines to rub up against rough or sharp edges. When using this type of connection, keep workers within a safe working distance from the overhead anchor point.
- Make sure to select the correct lifeline and follow the manufacturer's instructions.
- Cover potentially hazardous edges with protective material.
- Make lifeline safety part of the overall fall protection plan.
- Make regular inspections of lifelines and any other fall protection equipment prior to use.
- Train work crews on the proper use and limitations of the fall protection equipment they will use.
- Instruct workers on why and how to protect lifelines around potentially hazardous edges.