Safety insight: If you suspect that a worker is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, make sure that the person is quickly removed from the job site and isn’t allowed to perform potentially hazardous work.
What happened: A staffer set up an extension ladder and began climbing it to reach an elevated work location. When he got near the top, the ladder slipped out and he fell from it.
What people did: The injured employee was taken to a hospital, where he was treated for a broken ankle. He also submitted a urine sample that showed cocaine in his system.
Nevertheless, the staffer applied for workers’ comp.
Legal challenge: The employer challenged the comp claim, arguing that the incident was the result of the worker’s intoxication caused by the cocaine in his system, and that employees who suffer injuries due to their own intoxication aren’t eligible for comp.
Result: The company lost. The court ruled that the injured man was entitled to workers’ comp despite the presence of cocaine in his system.
The judge noted that it was the responsibility of the employer to prove that the cocaine use led to the incident. In this case, the worker refused to say when he’d ingested the cocaine, so it wasn’t known how long the drug had been in his system. Furthermore, there was no evidence that the man had appeared intoxicated before he began to climb the ladder.
The skinny: Companies that fight comp claims based on alleged drug or alcohol use typically have to prove that the victim was intoxicated prior to the incident. It’s not enough to show only that the worker had a substance in his or her system.
Citation: R&T Acoustics v. Aguirre, Supreme Court of Kentucky, No. 2019-SC-000214-WC, 4/30/20.
(From the July 27, 2020, issue of Safety Alert for Supervisors. To download the rest of the issue right now, please click here.)