“Greg got hurt because he was wasted,” said Angela, the supervisor. “The drug test administered after his injury revealed the presence of marijuana in his system.”
“Yes, that’s true,” replied Stephanie, the plant manager, “yet Greg says that he smoked the weed the night before he got hurt. He says that he wasn’t intoxicated at the time of his injury. How did Greg injure his arm?”
“Greg was helping a coworker clear a jam on a machine,” replied Angela. “They were having a lot of trouble because the jam was hard to reach. Eventually, Greg took off his safety goggles and gloves, then reached into the danger zone of the equipment. At the same time, a coworker activated the device, and Greg’s arm was crushed.”
“I see,” said Stephanie. “Now Greg has applied for workers’ comp, and we’re thinking about challenging his claim.”
“I’m guessing that we’re fighting his comp claim because he tested positive for marijuana,” said Angela.
“That’s correct,” said Stephanie. “Under workers’ comp law, there’s an assumption that someone was intoxicated at the time of his or her injury if the victim later tests positive for illegal drugs.”
“This is an open-and-shut case then,” said Angela. “The positive drug test shows that the injury was the result of Greg’s marijuana use.”
“That might be true,” said Stephanie. “Nevertheless, Greg contends that he was clear-headed at the time of the incident. He says that he interacted with coworkers and supervisors throughout the day and during his break, but no one alleged that he was disoriented.”
“No one reported anything about Greg’s behavior to me,” said Angela, “but he got hurt because he violated several safety rules. For instance, workers are forbidden from removing their safety goggles or gloves while operating equipment. Plus, no one is allowed to reach into a machine in order to try to clear a jam.”
“Greg alleges that it’s standard practice for people to take off their safety gloves and goggles,” said Stephanie. “He also contends that equipment operators often reach into devices to clear jams.”
“The regulations are sometimes violated,” said Angela, “but Greg was under the influence of marijuana when he ignored the rules. Let’s fight his comp claim.”
Result: The company lost. The court ruled that the man was eligible for workers’ comp benefits.
The judge decided that the employer failed to prove that the injury was the result of the worker’s marijuana use.
No one reported that the employee appeared intoxicated before he suffered his injury, said the judge. And the incident was only partly the fault of the victim. The staffer who turned on the unit with someone still in harm’s way also bore some responsibility for what happened.
Plus, it was routine for employees to ignore safety rules, so the man’s decision to do so probably had nothing to do with his use of marijuana the night before the incident.
Based on Rose v. Berry Plastics Corp.
(From theh Feb. 3, 2020, issue of Safety Alert for Supervisors)