Tipped Battery Cart Led to Death of Minnesota Hospital Worker

June 6, 2008

A hospital worker who died in November in a motorized shelving unit was the victim of a battery cart that tipped over and tripped a switch activating the moving shelves, an investigation has found.

Rice Memorial Hospital worker Susan Leukam died Nov. 26, three days after the accident. An investigation showed Leukam suffocated during the nearly half-hour she was trapped before a co-worker found her, said Lorry Massa, CEO of the Willmar hospital, on Tuesday.

The city-owned hospital will pay $50,000 in fines to the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration for violations including failing to have safety devices to prevent the motorized shelves from activating while an employee was in an aisle between them (see Insurance Journal Web posing, June 4, 2008, Midwest).

“In the end, someone lost their life because this system failed,” Massa said.

Safety sensors are supposed to detect when someone is standing in the aisle between the motorized shelves. There had been problems with at least two of the shelves, however, and the vendor had been called on several occasions, Massa said.

In the meantime, workers had been using a battery pack to operate the shelves when power was not available. But apparently no one knew that the battery pack negated the built-in safety sensors, Massa said.

Leukam was standing in one of the aisles when the battery pack, which was sitting on a nearby cart, apparently tipped over. This activated the toggle switch on the battery pack, causing the shelf behind Leukam to automatically move toward her and trap her between shelving units.

The investigation is considered complete, said Minnesota OSHA spokesman James Honerman.

“Our main goal is to ensure this doesn’t happen again,” he said.

OSHA did not find that Rice Hospital committed any willful or repeated safety violations, he said.


Information from: West Central Tribune, http://www.wctrib.com

AP-WS-06-04-08 1227EDT

Received Id 1163753640 on Jun 04 2008 12:27

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