Risk Management: Failure to maintain can be costly

AWPs require special attention


It’s a basic premise — maintain equipment, so it performs as expected — but the payoffs of proper maintenance run much deeper. “Failure to maintain” was a contributing factor in seven of the 10 most expensive ARA Insurance claims settled in the last
10 years for accidents involving aerial work platform (AWP) equipment. Multiple factors, including operator error and inadequate
training, contributed to all the accidents, but negligent maintenance was significant enough to warrant high-dollar settlements.

One of the most expensive accidents is detailed in the Risky Business column on page 12. It settled for $1 million, the limit of the rental company’s insurance policy.

Another accident also settled for $1 million. A high school senior rented a boom lift to trim trees in his yard. He was instructed to deploy the machine’s outriggers before raising the basket, but he did not follow that direction. When he raised the basket, the machine tipped over.

The basket struck the ground and the renter suffered a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the chest down. He filed suit, demanding compensation for extensive medical expenses, loss of future earnings, and pain and suffering. Given his youth and significant injury, the full value of his case was $8 million. The rental company had purchased the lift used and did not inspect it before putting it into service, an important aspect of proper maintenance. The previous owner had disabled the safety feature that prevented the basket from rising when the outriggers were not deployed.

In another tip-over accident, two workers in a scissor lift were seriously injured when they drove the extended lift over an open drain hole. The pothole protection device did not deploy, but it should not have been the primary safeguard against tip over. The men would have known to avoid the hole had they inspected the site before beginning work. Also, being aware of various drain holes on site, the general contractor was negligent for not covering them.

However, a significant cause of the accident was the failure of the pothole protection device. It had been disabled by a prior renter, which the rental company should have learned in a pre-rental inspection. Its insurer settled for $750,000.

In another $750,000 case, a renter was 40 ft. up in a boom lift, trimming trees when a partially-cut limb broke off and struck the basket. He was knocked out of the basket and died from the fall. He had declined the personal fall protection equipment offered by the rental company. In his mid-40s, he left a widow and four children, and his estate filed suit. Of significant concern were the pins connecting the basket to the boom. The manufacturer had issued a safety bulletin requiring a retrofit, but the rental company had no records that it had been done.

In yet another accident, a scissor lift operator inadvertently activated the toggle switch when he leaned over the control box. The lift suddenly extended upward and crushed the man against overhead pipes. He suffered ruptures to his diaphragm, spleen, colon and left rotator cuff. Normally the switch would have to be pulled out to activate it, but at some point, the original toggle switch had been replaced. The rental company’s insurer settled for $500,000.

Two rental companies were involved in an accident in which a man was thrown from the basket of a boom lift when one of its outriggers suddenly failed. Personal fall protection equipment arrested his fall, but he still suffered injuries. He sued both the company that rented him the lift and its prior owner — also a rental company — for negligent maintenance and both paid. The prior owner had performed several repairs to the outrigger without following the service manual. The current owner put the lift into service without first inspecting it. Settlement totaled $475,000 from both parties.

In the final example, a painter in a boom lift suffered third-degree burns on most of his body when his head contacted overhead power lines. He filed suit, alleging that the lift had not been functioning properly, that the basket continued to move even after releasing the controls. The rental company had performed regular maintenance on the lift, but did not keep maintenance records. After spending over $180,000 in legal defense, the case was settled for $150,000.

An aerial work platform is the safest means to work at height, unless the operator is careless or untrained, or the machine is not in good operating condition.

These claims demonstrate the importance of properly maintaining AWPs, including inspecting them for defects and disabled safety features, following manufacturers’ specifications to repair them, and documenting it all.

Maura Paternoster is risk manager for ARA Insurance in Kansas City, Mo. For more information, call 800-821-6580 or visit  ARAinsure.com.