Scott Mugno, nominated by President Trump to be the next head of OSHA has a problem. Several problems actually.
Last Thursday morning, Thanksgiving Day, at 12:30 am, the body of Ellen Gladney was found under a motorized mobile conveyor belt system at the FedEx Memphis hub. Gladney, a FedEx “Team Leader” was described by friends as a “grandmother and full of life. She had a big smile and loved helping others.”
Gladney’s death was not only a terrible tragedy in itself, but the latest of three deaths of FedEx workers at the company’s Memphis hub over the past three and a half years. In 2015, 39-year-old Christopher Higginbottom, age 39 and father of twin boys, was crushed by a “tug” and in 2014, 19-year-old Chandler Warren was crushed by a cargo lift. The Memphis FedEx World Hub covers more than 800 acres at Memphis International Airport. It has 42 miles of conveyor belts and is a key nerve center in the company’s package shipping operations.
Meanwhile, last month Michael Merton, 60, of Lubbock, Texas, was killed at a FedEx facility at Lubbock Preston Smith Airport. Merton’s daughters have filed a wrongful death suit against the company, alleging gross negligence by failing to train its employees in proper safety procedures and providing a safe work environment. The daughters are frustrated because no one has told them how their father was killed. Their attorney explained that they filed the lawsuit “in order to do the discovery that we need to find out exactly what happened and how it happened and why it happened.”
Also in Tennessee, a FedEx driver, 59-year-old Dorothy Brooker, was killed when a train hit her truck at a crossing that did not have an arm or lights to warn of an approaching train. And in October 2016, a FedEx employee in Missouri was trapped in a conveyor belt and received “severe to moderate injuries” to his arm.
While any workplace death is a tragedy, three deaths in as many years at one site may indicate a serious problem with the company’s safety system. And that means a serious problem for the Vice President for Safety, Sustainability and Vehicle Maintenance at FedEx Ground in Pittsburgh and former Managing Director for FedEx Express Corporate Safety, Health and Fire Protection in Memphis — Scott Mugno.
The Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration (TOSHA) is heading up the investigation into Gladney’s death. Tennessee is one of 21 OSHA state plan states that cover safety and health for private (and public) sector workers. TOSHA proposed to fine FedEx $4,000 in connection with the death of Higginbottom, but FedEx has appealed that case. FedEx received a $5200 citation for Warren’s death, which was later reduced to $4000. Federal OSHA issued a $38,025 citation for violation of the lockout-tagout and machine guarding standards related to the Missouri conveyor belt incident above. FedEx is also contesting this citation.
Mugno has led FedEx-sponsored champion drivers at the National Truck Driving Championships (NTDC) and at the company’s Chairman’s Challenge Competition and Celebration where drivers who go accident free for a year to qualify to compete in the truck driving championships. He has plenty to say about driver safety.
Being accident-free is very possible and it has advantages beyond becoming a member of Team FedEx. The biggest? Keeping the promise. The promise the driver made when they said “I’ll see you when I get home tonight,” or “I’ll meet you at your soccer game,” or “We’re going to have a great weekend this weekend, can’t wait.”
As a safety professional, part of my job is dealing with the aftermath of when that promise isn’t kept.
There are a number of questions that Senators may want to ask Mugno at his hearing next week about these fatalities and FedEx’s safety program when a confirmation hearing is held. For example
- FedEx has a facility with three fatalities in three years. What does this say about the facility’s safety management system?
- The FedEx web page talks about your Quality Action Teams which “continually search for root causes and propose safety procedure improvements to reduce preventable accidents.” What kind of root causes did your team find as a result of these fatalities, and how did the company respond? What changes were made following each incident?
- Why isn’t the family of Michael Merton being provided with the information they want regarding the death of their father?
- Why did FedEx contest the $4000 citation for the death of Christopher Higginbottom and the Missouri citation after an employee became trapped in a conveyor belt?
- The FedEx website is full of the great things that FedEx does to improve employee safety. But there is no mention of the FedEx employees who were killed on the job and what you have learned from these tragedies. Don’t you think that would help FedEx employees understand the hazards of the job and what can be done to prevent fatalities?
- I note that FedEx carefully monitors and publicizes Lost Time Injury Rates and your Preventable Recordable Vehicle Accident Rate. That’s a good thing to do. Why do you publicize that information? Do you think it would also be good for OSHA to post on their website the injury and illness rates of all businesses who are required to submit that information to OSHA as was envisioned when OSHA issued its electronic recordkeeping rule last year?
- The FedEx Global Citizen Report has an impressive summary of the company’s safety program. What do you think OSHA can do to bring other companies up to your standards — and not just those companies that aspire to get into VPP, but those companies who do not yet recognize the value of workplace safety?
- OSHA recently removed a standard from the regulatory agenda that would have prevented workers from being run over by vehicles that are backing up. Do FedEx vehicles have backup cameras? Do you think that all work vehicles should have backup cameras?
Answers to these questions and others should inform the Senators, and American workers, about the lessons Mugno has learned from the tragedies he’s witnessed over the past several years at FedEx.