Injured Hydroblaster Loses Bid to Sue Plant Owner

A unanimous panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a summary judgment for Conopco, Inc., which owns the Missouri plant where plainfiff Ricky Spaulding was hurt.

An independent contractor's employee who was severely injured when he fell headfirst into a tank at Conopco, Inc.'s Unilever plant in Independence, Mo., cannot sue Conopco for negligence because the company did not retain substantial control over the job site, nor did Conopco have a duty to warn him of dangerous conditions, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled. The unanimous decision by a panel of three judges in Ricky Spaulding v. Conopco, Inc., No. 12-3966, was issued Jan. 29.

Spaulding was working for Vac-Con Industrial Services, Inc. on May 14, 2010, when he was assigned to hydroblast a tank known as Kettle 910. According to the court's decision, he "climbed atop some railing located above the Kettle 910." He slipped and fell into the tank, suffering severe injuries that required the partial amputation of his right leg.

Spaulding filed for and received worker's compensation benefits through his employer, Crown Services, Inc., which had assigned him to work for Vac-Con. But he also sued Conopco, which he claimed exercised substantial control of the job site, for negligently failing to provide a scaffold, ladder, or lift or warn him of the dangerous conditions the tank posed.

The appellate judges disagreed. Conopco did not provide hydroblast training or equipment, did not instruct Spaulding on how he was to perform the task, and no Unilever plant personnel were present on the day of the accident, according to the decision, which also says only Vac-Con employees attended the daily safety meetings, including one that took place the day of Spaulding’s injury.

Spaulding claimed Conopco's lockout/tagout procedures proved that it controlled the job site; a Vac-Con employee who worked with Spaulding that day testified he'd never seen the LOTO procedures because it was Conopco's responsibility to lock out and tag out the machines that would be cleaned. But the appellate court held that "Conopco's adoption of general safety policies is not enough to establish that Conopco retained control over the jobsite." The decision states that "selecting items to be cleaned and providing access to the plant do not constitute sufficient control to impose liability on Conopco from an injured invitee. Conopco selected the Kettle 910 for cleaning per its contract with Vac-Con. In fact, the lockout/tagout protocols were also a mere means of allowing Vac-Con employees to access the tanks."

Conopco had no duty to warn Spaulding because Missouri courts do not follow a rule that landowners owe employees of independent contractors a duty to warn of dangerous conditions, the three St. Louis appeals court judges – Lavenski R. Smith, C. Arlen Beam, and Roger L. Wollman – held.

Download Center

HTML - No Current Item Deck
  • Free Safety Management Software Demo

    IndustrySafe Safety Management Software helps organizations to improve safety by providing a comprehensive toolset of software modules to help businesses identify trouble spots; reduce claims, lost days, OSHA fines; and more.

  • The Top 5 Safety and Technology Trends to Watch in 2019

    Get the latest on trends you can expect to hear more about in 2019, including continued growth of mobile safety applications, wearable technology, and smart PPE; autonomous vehicles; pending OSHA recordkeeping rulemaking; and increased adoption of international safety standard, ISO 45001.

  • Get the Ultimate Guide to OSHA Recordkeeping

    OSHA’s Form 300A posting deadline is February 1! Are you prepared? To help answer your key recordkeeping questions, IndustrySafe put together this guide with critical compliance information.

  • Safety Training 101

    When it comes to safety training, no matter the industry, there are always questions regarding requirements and certifications. We’ve put together a guide on key safety training topics, requirements for certifications, and answers to common training questions.

  • Conduct EHS Inspections and Audits

    Record and manage your organization’s inspection data with IndustrySafe’s Inspections module. IndustrySafe’s pre-built forms and checklists may be used as is, or can be customized to better suit the needs of your organization.

  • Industry Safe

OH&S Digital Edition

  • OHS Magazine Digital Edition - January 2019

    January 2019


      Production vs. Safety 
      Meeting the Requirements for Emergency Equipment
      The State of Contractor Safety
      The Three Keys to Effective Chemical Management
    View This Issue