Jun 11, 2023
Lowe's undergoes safety changes following last year's employee death
Lowe's Home Improvement no longer allows its employees to replace bases on
Lowe's Home Improvement no longer allows its employees to replace bases on cantilever racks following last year's death of a 23-year-old supervisor at a Lubbock store.
Rodolfo "Rudy" Trevino, 23, died Jan. 2, 2015, at the Lowe's located at 5022 W. Loop 289, after about 800 pieces of lumber and a cantilever rack fell on him while replacing the rack's base.
Trevino, whose manager described him in documents as a "go-to guy" and "go-getter," had been employed with Lowe's for one year and seven months at the time of his death.
In response to an open records request, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration provided A-J Media with 671 documents, including more than 40 photos taken during its investigation into Trevino's death.
Although a bulk of the documents were redacted - some because they would reveal confidential trade secrets or financial information - the viewable documents provide insight into the events leading up to the accident and subsequent action taken by OSHA and Lowe's.
Representatives with Lowe's did not respond to a request for comment by Friday evening.
Notes from OSHA's evaluation of Lowe's Safety and Health Program state the company had an above-average safety and health training program, however enforcement and communication to employees was inadequate.
"The employer had very specific procedures for changing the bases on a cantilever style rack system, but the supervisor did not follow the procedures," according to documents from the investigation.
In a written statement to OSHA investigators, the Lubbock store's loss prevention manager, Christy Rodriguez, said she emailed Trevino, directing him to replace baseplates on 10 cantilever racks.
"I told him in the email to consult with one of my safety team members prior to replacing the bases because I did not know how much experience he had," she wrote.
Rodriguez also wrote that bases had never been changed during the time she's worked at the Lubbock store, however she talked to other loss prevention members, who said bases were changed out in other stores at store-level.
OSHA's investigation states that Rodriguez did supply Trevino with information saying maintenance of storage racks should be done by professional rack crews and not Lowe's employees.
However, a manager knew the damaged base sections compromised the structural integrity and instructed Lowe's employees to replace it immediately.
The investigation found that employees working on the far west side of the Lubbock store were exposed to hazards while performing repairs on the rack, the documents state. The rack had not been cleared of about 800, 2-inch by 4-inch by 8-feet timbers when bolts were removed from the bases.
"The loaded rack system could not maintain its structural integrity when the employees were ordered to remove and replace both of the base (primary load bearing structures) sections of the cantilever rack," the documents state. "The compromised system then suffered catastrophic failure and collapsed, killing one employee when the lumber (which had not been removed as per company policy) overloaded the compromised structure and fell onto the employee working the system."
Following its investigation, OSHA cited Lowe's with one serious violation, stating the store did not furnish "a place of employment which (was) free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees in that employees were exposed to struck-by hazards."
The company was initially fined $7,000, but that was reduced 20 percent to $5,600. The fine reduction came after an informal settlement agreement between OSHA and Lowe's, which allowed retraining and getting a third-party vendor to replace cantilever racks as an acceptable form of abatement.
In an email to Occupational Safety and Health Administration dated July 21, 2015, Paul W. Lombardi, counsel for Lowe's Companies Inc., said the company didn't retrain employees on how to replace the bases of the racks because it no longer allows its employees to replace them.
"Rather, Lowe's engages the services of a third party vendor to perform work on cantilever bases," Lombardi wrote. "Lowe's did, however, reiterate to its employees the importance of removing items from stock prior to performing maintenance on racking units in the store."
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