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Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed Over 3M Safety Harness Failure

3M Company faces a wrongful death lawsuit over its Nano-Lok Self-Retracting Lifeline, which claims that the safety harness is defective and resulted in fatal injuries for construction worker in 2018.

The complaint was filed by the wife of Walter Burrows, who died after a SALA Nano-Lok Self-Retracting Lifeline safety harness failed, according to a recent report by Constructiondive.com.

Burrows was working on the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority’s East Link light-rail project in Seattle on May 22, 2018, when the 3M lifeline failed to detect his rapid descent, and was cut on the concrete edge of Burrows’ platform. As a result, Burrows fell 35 feet and died later that day due to his injuries.

The lawsuit claims Burrows was using the 3M safety harness correctly, but that the manufacturer failed to warn about the risks associated with using the harness on or near a beveled edge.

3M has pushed back against the claims, indicating that Burrows’ employer, Kiewit-Hoffman East Link Constructors, failed to give Burrows adequate safety training, proper equipment, and instructions on how to use that equipment. The manufacturer also blamed Sound Transit, Burrows’ co-workers and supervisors for failing to maintain a safe job site.

Following the incident, in September 2019, the Washington State Division of Occupational Safety and Health put out a hazard alert (PDF), warning against using self-retracting lifelines (SRLs) near sharp edges.

The warning reference two deaths linked to lifelines being severed, one of which appears to be a reference to Burrows, though it does not use his name. The other incident occurred when a steel-cable lifeline was severed by the edge of formwork made steel plates.

“Evidence from investigations of each incident indicated damage to lifelines occurred during the fall, not before,” the alert stated. “In both cases, manufacturers of the lifelines warned about using SRLs around edges that could damage the lifeline or prevent the SRL from effectively arresting the fall.”

The hazard alert warns employers to identify and document all hazardous edges during a walk-around safety inspection at the work site, avoid using lifelines in those areas, or anchor them vertically overhead when possible, to prevent the lifeline from contacting an edge and to minimize swing falls that could abrade them against those types of surfaces.

The alert also recommended the edges could be covered with a protective material, that employers should select the appropriate lifeline for that specific application and follow the manufacturer’s instructions, and that employers should routinely inspect lifelines and other fall protection equipment before each use.

The wrongful death lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial in March 2021.

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