Injury from a Slip and Fall in a Steel Warehouse

TASA ID: 1006

Hot rolled "pickled and oiled" coils were received at a steel warehouse for processing to the customers' specs.  The 30,000 to 45,000 pound coils were stored in a storage bay.  They often were leaking enough oil from the supplier's operation to create large very oily areas in the storage area.  A maintenance worker was working in the storage facility.  Her duties were to clean the area as needed in order to remove the oil from the floor.  She was walking behind a powered floor scrubber, operating it to move forward, when she slipped and fell backwards.  The fall caused her right arm to come in contact with the edge of an adjacent steel coil.  This contact caused a severe laceration and damage to the ulnar nerve.

Two primary questions arose:

1.      Were the incoming coils, as supplied by the hot rolling facility, oiled too profusely so as to cause an inordinate amount of oil to seep out from between the wraps onto the floor of the storage facility?

2.      Were the edges of the coils, as supplied by the hot rolling facility too sharp, or more so than usually is the case than others commonly supplied, and should they have been wrapped for protection of the workers from such injury?

Expert Analysis

My Comments on Information Supplied

  1. Defendant's Comments
    1.  "...oil from a steel coil should not present a slipping or falling hazard."  I disagreed, in that the level of hazard is dependent upon the quantity of oil leaked onto the floor.
    2. "They normally do not wrap their coils for shipment."  I did not think that this is abnormal, as compared to the usual industry practice that I have seen.
    3. "The oiling was done by a subcontractor."  Since the hot rolling company sold the coils as oiled, even though it subcontracted the oiling to another company, it, the original producer and seller, is still the responsible party.
    4.  "There are no industry standards."  This was stated in response to a question about oiling and wrapping standards.  I agreed with that statement.
  2. Plaintiff's Comments
    1.  "...oil just poured out of the coils..."
    2. "The leaking was repetitive...again and again."
    3. She identifies bay eight, where she was hurt, as an area where much oil accumulates.
  3. Comments by the maintenance lead man for the cold rolling facility
    1. "There was nothing but oil on the floor where the accident occurred."
    2. "There is much less oil "now." Is it possible that the lower level of oil deposition on the steel "now" is low enough to not have caused the accident earlier, if the present level had been used "then"?
  4. Comments by the plant manager of the cold rolling facility
    1. "They did not specify any covering on the incoming coils."
  5. Comments by the sales manager for the supplier (at the time of the accident)
    1. "He said that the coils from the supplier were not wrapped."  The coils that were shipped from the supplier directly to a customer were not pickled, nor oiled, as were the ones in question.  I did not see any statement from him that accepted the responsibility for the wrapping (or none) from the subcontractor.  However, if this company was indeed the subcontractor for the hot rolling facility, then the hot rolling facility in my mind was responsible for the wrapping or lack of it.  In my opinion, the whole discussion was moot because the usual industry practice was not necessarily to wrap coils, especially for such a short trip.  If the trip was a long one, and subject to much extra humidity, then wrapping might be desired.  Note that the coils from a foreign hot rolled steel supplier as shown in the photographs are all wrapped in a shrink wrap material.
    2. "He discusses the danger of being cut by the steel."  In my experience he was correct.  I have been in mills where all workers are required to wear kevlar gloves with gauntlets up to or above their elbows because they are working on strip thicknesses of 0.001", which is razor sharp.  In other locations there is usually no protection except to wear the normal gloves that any worker would wear in any rough location.  It is normally the responsibility of the customer to handle the material properly.  Also the "mill edge" from a hot mill is not normally "sharp."  It may very well be "jagged" as the cut end might be.  As such it can be a danger to an unsuspecting worker, but the education of the work force by the customer is the usual place to deal with the proper way to work safely with steel coils.  In my opinion, it is not the supplier's responsibility.
  6. Photographs of Coils, etc.
    1. I could make little from the photographs since none had any notation as to why they were taken or what they were to depict.
    2. If they were all taken at the same time, then they were taken about five years after the accident, judging by the dates on the legible coil ID tags.
    3. Looking at the edges of the coils, it does not seem to me that the level of oiling on the coils in the photographs is excessive.  In my experience, coils that have been excessively oiled have oil stains on the bottom 10 degrees, or so, of the exposed side wall.  The coils in these photos do not have that staining.  If I was correct that the photos were taken as noted above (item 6b), then comments that the oil drainage problem is less one year later than in item 6b may very well be correct.  If so, and the oiling amount has been reduced, is that an indication that they have culpability in the accident?
    4. I noted that the chains between the coils and the steel chocks on the rails would keep the coils from rolling.  These methods that were used to stop the coils from rolling away from each other are an indication of good safety procedures on the part of the warehouse operators.
    5. I noted that the wrapped coils are from three different suppliers.  I could see no reason why these coils were wrapped, except the ones from foreign suppliers, which might need different rules due to customs requirements.

Expert Conclusion

The two questions were:

1.      Was there too much oil on the coils?

2.      Should the coils have been wrapped?

My opinion was that the oil level was extremely high and, as such, contributory in this instance, when compared to what I had seen as an industry norm.  As to the wrapping, I didn't agree that the lack of any wrapping was wrong.

The above was based on the following:

There are three measures by which to gauge any industrial activity: codes, standards, and practices.

  1. Codes are those items such as the federal OSHA regulations, state building codes, city building codes and the like that are the law in those respective jurisdictions.
  2. Standards are the lists of methods of actions and construction that the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Underwriters Laboratories (UL), the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), and others promulgate.  These standards very often become law when they are referenced by any of the Codes.  If not referenced by any code, they still are commonly cited as a proper way to do any industrial act.
  3. Practices are those things that are generally accepted in industry as the "proper" way to do something even though the act has not been codified by a law or a standard.  Examples of this are those things that journeymen workers know after going through an apprentice course:
    1. the proper direction to wrap a wire around a terminal screw;
    2. how many threads should be engaged when screwing a bolt into a nut;
    3. what is the correct way to cut the insulation from an electrical conductor;
    4. how should mortar be applied to do the best job when laying bricks;

             and the usual way that most industrial activities are performed.

In my opinion both the oil deposition level and the wrapping are questions of "Good Practice," not of "Codes" or "Standards."

If indeed the reason for the worker's slip was the oil on the floor, then I did agree that the oil levels on the coils were a contributor to the accident.  Today's oil levels can be controlled to be 150 milligrams per square foot or lower, some as low as 50 milligrams per square foot.  These control methods have been available for at least 15 years.  This amount of oil is sufficient to do the job of protecting the coils from rusting.    These levels of deposition are being used successfully in steel mills in the United States.  They result in coils that do not do not accumulate rust during shipment and storage, and do not drip great quantities of oil from their side walls while resting in storage.  The supplier's action of applying more oil than this amount was, in my opinion, a contributory factor in the accident.  Note that it was claimed in the above deposition that the oil leakage is less now.  Is this decrease an indication that the supplier has recognized the error of its ways and changed the amount of oil, thus indicating that they were indeed wrong 5 years ago?  My calculations showed that the amount of oil on the coils at the 150mg/sqft level would have been about 1.5 quarts for the average stored coil.  This is clearly less than what was observed.

I did not agree that the lack of wrapping on the coil would cause it to be defined as "faulty," even though the protruding end was the part that caused the injury.  Evidently the plaintiff was injured when she fell backwards into the head end of the strip that was sticking out from the coil.  There are claims that the coil was "unsafe" because it was not wrapped, as many of the other coils were.  Judging by the dates of the photographs of the various coil tags that I received, and assuming that all of the pictures were taken at about the same time, these are views of coils about five years after the accident.  I could only assume that the coils at the time of the accident were similar in wrapping to the ones that I saw pictured.  In my experience in the cold-rolled steel industry, wrapping is purely a matter of the supplier's choice, or of the customer's, if so desired.  Wrapping was usually not used, especially for such a short truck ride as in this case.

This article discusses issues of general interest and does not give any specific legal or business advice pertaining to any specific circumstances.  Before acting upon any of its information, you should obtain appropriate advice from a lawyer or other qualified professional.

This article may not be duplicated, altered, distributed, saved, incorporated into another document or website, or otherwise modified without the permission of TASA.

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