State report critical of Metro Public Works after sanitation worker’s death

Metro Public Works employee garbage truck accident
(Photo: WKRN)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – In the wake of a sanitation worker’s death in Nashville last July, a critical State of Tennessee safety report has found what it calls “serious violations” in training and accident reporting at Metro Public Works.

The report is formally called an “Unsafe or Unhealthful Working Conditions” notice to Public Works from the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration (TOSHA).

It says the department “failed to provide employees with the necessary safety training required before the operating and working on a sanitation truck and failed to protect employees from the recognized hazards associated with mobile-refuse collection equipment.”

MORE: Read the full report by the State of Tennessee

The notice indicated 19-year-old Chandler Harris died July 14 “after being pinned between a building and a sanitation truck on which he had been riding as the vehicle was being backed into an alley.”

News 2 reported at the time of the accident that Harris had been working with Public Works for only a few months.

A TOSHA accident report indicates that Harris had only been working on the sanitation truck “for only a few hours.”

Chandler Harris, Metro Public Works employee garbage truck accident

The TOSHA notice requires the department provide “instruction and training of employees in safe methods of work before assigning them to operate or work around a sanitation truck; and (ensure) that no person ride on the steps when the vehicle is backing up.”

The “training” issue was the first of two violations deemed “serious” by the TOSHA notice.

The second violation stemmed from what state investigators said was a Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) accident report “not completed in detail…”

The notice said the OSHA log “was not completed to show it as a work-related injury that resulted in an employee’s death.”

A copy of the TOSHA report has been sent to Metro Public Works and to Nashville Mayor Karl Dean’s office.

A spokesperson said the department has until Sept. 11 to formally respond to the charges or ask for an extension.

TOSHA administrator Steve Hawkins told News 2 in a statement:

This report identifies serious deficiencies in the manner Metro Nashville Public Works operates trash collection vehicles. The ANSI standard and owner’s manual both prohibit backing of trash collection vehicles while an employee is standing on the rear step. The TOSHA investigation documents employees were not properly trained on safe truck operation. Tennessee OSHA staff met with public works management staff this week to discuss actions Public Works must take to prevent such an event from occurring again.

Late Friday afternoon, the Metro Government released a statement from Stephen Cain, the head of safety for the city’s Human Resources department. It read:

This is a horrible tragedy. Everyone at Metro grieves for the family and with the family of Mr. Harris.

In response to this tragic accident and the areas we can improve upon, as noted by the TN OSHA report, the Metro Public Works Department made immediate changes throughout the department following this tragic accident to ensure the safety of our employees. Furthermore, Metro Public Works has hired a consulting firm to conduct a review of Public Works safety practices and procedures. The results of this assessment will be shared with you when it is completed.

We are working and will continue to work to better ensure Metro is the safest place it can be for all of our employees.

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