Memphis attorney questions if company is doing enough

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FedEx Super Hub in action
Memphis Commercial Appeal

Tennessee needs to demand more of FedEx and its safety practices following the death of another worker at the FedEx Express World Hub in Memphis, a local attorney who has represented families of deceased hub workers said Thursday.

Attorney Jeffrey Rosenblum said he has not been contacted by the family of Duntate Young, who died in a hub accident Wednesday. But of the cases he’s been involved with, he said there’s been a “predictable misuse” of facility equipment that manufacturers should have safeguarded against.

“Third-party contractors selling to FedEx have a duty to build machines in a safe way, but FedEx has an independent duty of that,” said Rosenblum, who has represented three families of people who died while working at the hub. “I’m not sure if FedEx is going above and beyond to do that.”

Young, 23, was pronounced dead Wednesday after being transported from the hub to Regional One Medical Center, city police and fire officials said. A spokeswoman said FedEx is still waiting for confirmation from authorities on the cause of death.

“To me, it’s a shame, and we as a community, we as a state, need to demand more of one of our largest employers,” Rosenblum said, adding that FedEx’s pursuit of speed in its hub operations could be a reason for equipment misuse.

FedEx said in a statement Thursday that employee safety is its top priority and “even one accident is too many.”

“We invest heavily in training and technologies designed to protect our team members and the public,” FedEx said. “Our safety initiatives emphasize educating new hires, developing facility safety action plans and delivering safety education for team members and vendors at all levels. We remain committed to continual improvement using new educational programs and procedures.”

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The FedEx Express World Hub employs more than 11,000 people, handles hundreds of thousands of items per hour and is ramping up for the holiday delivery rush by hiring seasonal workers. Memphis International Airport, where the hub is based, is North America’s busiest cargo airport due to FedEx’s presence.

Fourth death at hub since July ’14

Young’s death is the fourth workplace fatality at the Memphis hub since July 2014.

Material handler Chandler Warren, 19, was crushed under a cargo loader platform at the hub on July 2, 2014, according to an investigation by the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Warren had been working for FedEx for about four months.

“The victim reached under the rear platform while it was being lowered to the ground level and was crushed between the rear platform and the loader’s supporting structure,” TOSHA said. “The empty weight of the loader is approximately 63,000 lbs.”

Rosenblum said the loader had no safety stop and Warren was in the operator’s blind spot.

On Nov. 22, 2015, employee Christopher Higginbotham, 39, apparently fell off the cargo tug he was operating and was run over by one of the attached dollies, according to a TOSHA inspection. Each dolly can carry around 2,300 pounds.

“The victim picked up the cargo TUG early in the morning, and approximately one hour later, security found the victim under the first dolly,” the inspection report said.

On Nov. 22, 2017, 60-year-old employee Ellen Gladney died after being struck by the auxiliary deck attached to a cargo loader. TOSHA’s report said the operator “noticed the victim had been run over” after Gladney went to grab the emergency stop controller for the loader, out of the operator’s line of sight.

Ellen Gladney: Wrongful death lawsuit in FedEx hub fatality seeks $3 mi

U.S., Canada lost time injury rate up

In its annual global citizenship report, FedEx reported seven work-related employee deaths in its 2018 financial year, seven in 2017 and six in 2016. Those resulted “from an occupational injury or disease sustained or contracted while in the organization’s employ,” per the report.

FedEx also reported its lost time injury rate, which increased in the U.S. and Canada.

FedEx’s lost time injury rate in the U.S. and Canada was 3.89 per 200,000 hours worked in fiscal year 2018. That’s higher than the company recorded in fiscal 2016 (3.79) and 2017 (3.68), according to the report.

“We have investigated the root causes of this increase and are working to improve safety performance going forward through new training methods, additional implementation of industry-leading technology, and initiatives to make sure our Safety Above All approach is reflected in every action,” the company said in the report.

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FedEx defines lost time injury as a “nonfatal traumatic injury that causes any loss of time from work beyond the day or shift it occurred; or a nonfatal nontraumatic illness/disease that causes disability at any time.”

In the rest of the world, the company’s lost time injury rate was 2.21 per 200,000 hours worked in fiscal 2018.

‘Safety above all’

FedEx says “safety above all” is a core belief of the company. The logistics giant says it invests millions of dollars every year to prevent accidents and injuries.

Among FedEx’s new workplace safety investments is implementing auto-docking capabilities on airport ground service equipment, according to its global citizenship report. This way, operators don’t have to maneuver the equipment on the last three meters toward the cargo plane, it said.

Additionally, FedEx Express has a “slip and fall simulator” at its Memphis hub which teaches employees how to handle maneuvering around obstacles and carry packages during inclement weather, the report said.

“In short, we have high standards,” FedEx says on its workplace safety web page. “To ensure we live up to them, our global network of safety professionals works closely with management and team members on methods to avoid injuries and accidents. They also collaborate with our service providers to ensure accountability for safety.”

Max Garland covers FedEx, logistics and health care for The Commercial Appeal. Reach him at max.garland@commercialappeal.com or 901-529-2651 and on Twitter @MaxGarlandTypes.

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