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Our employer is asking us to move items that are approximately 1000 lbs (450 kg) each from one building to another.

We will need to move 5 of these machines out of a building and somehow load them onto a truck. We are not movers; we work with small items and sit at desks all day. I feel like this is a safety issue and that the company should contract professionals to move these items. The whole company is moving to a new location.

My co-workers and I have no problem moving items we can carry, but we have no idea how to safely move and transport these big things. I brought this issue up several months ago at a safety meeting and was assured professional movers would be used, but now I'm being told we will be doing this ourselves tomorrow. I'm legitimately worried someone is going to get hurt.

They are on wheels, but they will need to be pushed out onto a side walk and up a pretty steep hill to a truck that I'm told will have some kind of lifting machine on the back of it. The truck will be rented and one of us will be expected to operate it. None of us has any experience doing anything like this. We don't understand how it's supposed to be done and management is basically saying, "You figure it out."

We enjoy our jobs and like the company; I just am afraid one or more of us will be seriously injured in the move. I have already suggested that this is a safety concern, and that was acknowledged at the time. Now, that concern is not being addressed, and I don't really know what more I can do aside from calling OSHA or something. I don't know if we have the right to refuse to do this task or not.

How can I address this issue properly so that no one gets hurt?

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    I'd be interested in knowing how this turned out. Presumably, the move has already happened, so what did you do and how did management respond? – Michael J. Jun 27 '18 at 21:04
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    Moving the large items has been postponed for another day due to me raising concern with our safety coordinator and a long conversation with my supervisor about why this should be taken seriously. It is still not clear what will happen. – user88622 Jun 27 '18 at 21:22
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    @user88622 Thanks for the update, and please let us know how everything turns out in the end! – David K Jun 28 '18 at 12:02
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    Any updates on this? – Pikamander2 Jun 30 '18 at 23:43
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    Any updates since the postponement? – MonkeyZeus Jul 2 '18 at 17:00

13 Answers 13

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As an aside for the future, I would suggest you do something drastic to make a change in management. This type of "tell you professional movers will be used, and then on the last day tell you that it's gonna be you instead" bait-and-switch is a sign of management that is 100% okay with doing anything if it saves them money. I really doubt they legitimately had professional movers lined up and scheduled to come move the machinery and something just came up at the last second that forced them to have to use you instead. They told you professional movers would be used to distract and pacify you. Stuff like that is not incompetence, it's intentional. Anybody in an upper management position would very clearly notice the problems with using untrained people to move heavy machinery and anybody who doesn't is not qualified to be in management. There is a very serious threat of death/injury in the things they're asking you to do. If they're willing to do this to you now, they'll do it to you in the future as well. I would snuff this out immediately and prevent it from happening in the future by either:

  1. Escalating this issue to someone even higher up so that this management can face serious reprisal.

  2. Looking for a new company to work for.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Masked Man Jun 30 '18 at 13:48
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    Why not 3. Both? – jpmc26 Jul 2 '18 at 20:10
  • @rapt Which is why you get someone further up to deal with those below them – Feathercrown Jul 2 '18 at 21:41
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    Or 4. accidentally destroy the machine while moving it. Since you are not trained to handle it safely, you can't be held responsible, if you handled it to the best of your knowledge. – Josef Jul 3 '18 at 9:45
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1000 pounds (450 kg) on wheels, I would want to see the wheels. Unless it is proper wheels designed to move this thing around, that's problematic. Not dangerous if you are careful, but something I'd avoid.

450 kg on wheels up a steep hill is DANGEROUS. Something I would definitely refuse. Once you are three quarters up the steep hill and lose control, you can have half a ton of weight racing downhill. That's something that might not just hurt people, but could kill. (Although it's more likely that you are stuck after five meters :-)

Putting a 450 kg item up a truck using a lifting machine that you have never used is Dangerous. Not as DANGEROUS as the steep hill, but nothing I would do. Even if it doesn't kill or hurt anyone expect that machine to drop down from over a meter height. Your company won't be happy.

For driving the truck, do you have a license and insurance? I'd have to check carefully if I have the license (probably yes, UK license allows me to drive up to 7 1/2 tons), but I'm quite sure I wouldn't be insured if I drive a lorry for my company.

Adding all these things together: There is no way on earth that I would touch these things. For a few hundred dollars you can get some professionals in who know what they are doing, are qualified and insured for the job, and are probably a bit stronger than you and your colleagues.

PS. Some comments say "45 degrees downhill". You don't stand in front of the thing because you don't want to be crushed. You stand behind it. You make sure the area in front of you is empty. You push the machine and when you can't hold it anymore (which will be instantly) you let go, because you don't want to go down with it. Once it is totally destroyed at the bottom, you ask management if they want you to try with the other four machines. Invite everyone to record this on video. Second thought, no, don't do any of this.

PS. Taller than wide makes it worse. On an incline that may very well topple over and whoever stands in the wrong place is flat as a pancake. I made some comments about a pallet jack, the right one is fine for a ton of paving slabs, which are very heavy but not high at all.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Snow Jun 27 '18 at 16:32
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    "probably yes, UK license allows me to drive up to 7 1/2 tons" -- note to people reading this and think that their license also allows this ... quite possibly not. The default was changed from 7.5 tonnes to 3.5 tonnes for anyone passing their test after 1997. – Jules Jun 28 '18 at 0:43
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    I would say the wheels are the scariest part of it. I would much rather have a machine on a skid or pallet. – Harper Jun 29 '18 at 6:16
  • WRT penultimate para: Stand above or beside (with a clear bail route) the load as you move it on a hill. Going up probably requires ropes to pull (but that's good because you can pull from a low point). I've assisted plenty of such moves, but would be very reluctant to run them. As an absolute minimum you need someone with a clue in charge -- they may not be a senior person -- and a culture in which anyone can speak up. From where the OP is starting I suspect the latter is missing. Safety shoes are important for when you wheel it into your toes. Tail-lift or similar is less of a worry – Chris H Jul 2 '18 at 13:18
  • One degree downhill is dangerous. That's about a 2% grade, where 70mph freight trains slow to 15 mph so they can dissipate heat at a controllable rate, and they add extra engines for their regenerative brakes. A 1000lb load now pushes inexorably with 20lb of force, and if loosed, will gain an uncontrollable amount of kinetic energy in less than 1 second. That's one degree. Going down should also use rigging to control. – Harper Jun 22 at 14:59
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If this is a company in the USA, in an industry that falls under OSHA review, then the following may apply.

Items over a specific weight (50 lbs(23kg)) are considered hazardous to lift. Several options for moving heavy items are available, but most require training or certification.

  1. Pallet jack/hand truck - used up to rated weight can be safely operated unlicensed. Will not lift an item to a truck bed (ramp/lift on the truck/overhead lift system will be required to load/unload). Additionally, as @Stannius pointed out the comments, to be OSHA single-person compliant would require an upward angle of no more than 3 degrees at any point, if you're ignoring friction. (3 degrees of incline on 1000lbs comes out to around 52lbs of pushing force to maintain position). Given the provided information that the machines are on hard castors, and the ground is rough/uneven, I'd be cautious of even moving them on a non-inclined patch of rough ground.

  2. Overhead crane - overhead crane systems require certification in rigging and operation. Certain personal protective equipment (PPE) is also required, including eye protection, head protection, hand protection.

  3. Skates (not sure of the official name) - roller pads that can be used to move exceptionally heavy equipment along flat ground. While they can be used unlicensed, care will need to be exercised. These tend to be expensive to purchase as well.

Given the provided information, I doubt your employer has provided adequate PPE or training to safely move anything weighing over 50 lbs (23kg) (or 70 lbs(32kg) for a buddy lift). Even with a truck that has a loading crane attached, you need to be certified in rigging, and wear appropriate PPE as it counts as an overhead lift device.

Rigging certifications cover safe practices, maximum loads at different angles of rigging, and identifying the maximum load of a given system (if there are 3 components, the max lift is the smallest of the 3 values). I have personally witnessed an improperly rigged load (about 1200 lbs (546kg)) come loose and amputate someone's leg just below the knee.

EDIT: If the equipment are on wheels, OSHA regulations limit the force requirement to 50lbs(23kg) per person pushing, to limit injury.

Osha page here

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Masked Man Jun 27 '18 at 2:55
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    I wouldn't suggest you use the ring rollers in your image, instead I'd be looking for either a dolly a hand truck. – jmoreno Jun 28 '18 at 0:13
  • "pallet jack/ hand truck - used up to rated weight (I've never seen a standard one support over 350lbs(159kg))" Just wanted to comment that almost no loaded pallet in the world weighs <350lb. Pallet jacks and hand trucks are completely different things. A pallet jack should comfortably lift a half ton or more. A hand truck or dolly works on a pivot and obviously could get no where near this. I remove the weight rating from the post as there is no sensible way to list both hand truck and pallet jack ratings in the given sentence. (up to around 600lb for hand trucks, 1,500lb+ or pallet jacks) – DJSpud Jun 28 '18 at 17:45
  • Why do you assume it's an overhead crane? I read the question as referring to a liftgate, not a crane. – AJMansfield Jun 29 '18 at 12:07
  • @AJMansfield with a heavy object on free castors, you would need to rig it for a liftgate too. I'm guessing my experience is primarily limited due to my industry (last few items I shipped were loaded by HiLo or weighed over 17,000lbs). – GOATNine Jun 29 '18 at 12:16
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How can I address this issue properly so that no one gets hurt?

You, and your team, should refuse to have any involvement in the move of the heavy equipment. It's that simple.

An accident WILL happen, someone WILL get hurt or worse. You are not trained to move, and expecting you to move heavy equipment when you are not competent in how to move it is asking for trouble.

The company originally suggested professional movers would be involved and now expect you to do it? Ha, no. Not happening. Do not under any circumstances do this.

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    Thanks, yes I am pushing back on this. I personally will not take part in anything that I feel is not safe, but I can't really control what my co-workers chose to do and they clearly feel pressured by upper managment to perform this task. I brought this up with my supervisor again today and at first I got nothing but push back and accused of "making this more complicated than it needs to be" now we are having a meeting about it so hopefully my concerns will be addressed. – user88622 Jun 26 '18 at 17:03
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    Don't forget to mention at the meeting that if someone gets hurt the company may be liable for very large damages. – DJClayworth Jun 26 '18 at 17:45
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    For what it's worth, if the sheer mass of the things you're trying to move was less, I think this would be okay to ask, with the understanding that they could still refuse (because it's not their job). e.g. if they were being asked to move some desktop computers or boxes of forms or whatever. For this case, though, with the weight and equipment they're expected to manage, I fully agree with this answer, and I think it's really shitty of management to try to make it happen. – Nic Hartley Jun 26 '18 at 18:25
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    Not sure how it is in the US, but in the UK it wouldn't just be stupidly dangerous, it would be very illegal too. – Korthalion Jun 27 '18 at 10:18
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    I'm not sure if you can call it an accident, when we all pretty much know it will happen... – Mołot Jun 27 '18 at 12:50
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They are on wheels, but they will need to be pushed out onto a side walk and up a pretty steep hill to a truck that I'm told will have some kind of lifting machine on the back of it. The truck will be rented and one of us will be expected to operate it. None of us has any experience doing anything like this.

The highlighted bits are huge red flags that put both you and the public at risk up to and including death. OSHA has something to say about this:

Workers' Right to Refuse Dangerous Work

If you believe working conditions are unsafe or unhealthful, we recommend that you bring the conditions to your employer's attention, if possible.

You may file a complaint with OSHA concerning a hazardous working condition at any time. However, you should not leave the worksite merely because you have filed a complaint. If the condition clearly presents a risk of death or serious physical harm, there is not sufficient time for OSHA to inspect, and, where possible, you have brought the condition to the attention of your employer, you may have a legal right to refuse to work in a situation in which you would be exposed to the hazard. (OSHA cannot enforce union contracts that give employees the right to refuse to work.)

If I was you I would warn your management ahead of time that you are not happy to perform this work, and that if they insist on you doing it that you will take action to protect yourself.

Then follow the advice of OSHA.

You should take the following steps:

  1. Ask your employer to correct the hazard, or to assign other work;
  2. Tell your employer that you won't perform the work unless and until the hazard is corrected; and
  3. Remain at the worksite until ordered to leave by your employer.

If your employer retaliates against you for refusing to perform the dangerous work, contact OSHA immediately.

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    @BenMz Saying no to dangerous work is perfectly fine if management insists on it being performed. As per OSHA you have a right to refuse dangerous work – Peter M Jun 26 '18 at 16:33
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    @BenMz The solution is get professional movers, something that the OP's management has already discounted. – Peter M Jun 26 '18 at 16:38
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    @BenMz OP should not be obligated to offer a solution. If management wanted them to figure out how to get it to happen, they would have been put in charge of making it happen. Instead they were asked by their employer to perform the specific task of moving the objects by hand. If the OP does have some suggestions, then it is always a good thing to offer them. However, if someone else is in this situation but does not have any suggestions for how to fix it, they should not be worried about talking to their manager empty handed. – AlexanderJ93 Jun 26 '18 at 19:31
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    @BenMz "He needs to offer an alternative." -- If they have no training in moving heavy objects, they don't have the background necessary to offer an alternative (other than "hire professional movers"). – Keith Thompson Jun 26 '18 at 19:42
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    Good answer. I would only add one thing. Refuse by email first. Even if you have witnesses, witnesses working for your employer may not back you up when it is time to do so. That's why having a paper trail is always a good idea, should your employer decide to retaliate specifically against you for your refusal. – Stephan Branczyk Jun 28 '18 at 8:33
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Aside from the spot-on answers already covering this from a safety perspective, here's something else to consider that might make more of an impact on an unsympathetic manager.

The bulk/weight of these machines, the incline, the lift into the truck, and the unfamiliar lifting machine all contribute to the safety hazards already discussed. These safety hazards generally revolve around losing control of a large, heavy object. Even if nobody gets hurt, this would almost certainly result in a significant amount of damage to the equipment.

Management tends to pay attention when you mention an impact to the bottom line. Make it clear that the cost of professional movers is much less than the cost to repair or replace one of these machines, and orders of magnitude less than a worker's comp lawsuit.

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    I'll bring that up as well. – user88622 Jun 26 '18 at 17:41
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    Just to add on to this answer -- I think it'd be several orders of magnitude cheaper than the worst-case worker's comp lawsuit, involving death benefits, and when moving things that heavy without training, that's not unlikely. Not to mention the damage to their company if it gets out that they killed someone by forcing them to move equipment twenty times heavier than OSHA allows. – Nic Hartley Jun 26 '18 at 18:28
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    While I agree with what you're saying, some may take this as a threat of "if you make us do this, we will intentionally damage the equipment in retaliation." – alroc Jun 26 '18 at 19:59
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    @alroc - I think that's rather unlikely, but it would indeed be best to word things carefully to avoid that ambiguity. It's more a sense of "you must be willing to accept the worst-case scenario", which is ridiculously lower with professional movers (who are generally insured). – bta Jun 26 '18 at 20:55
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    This tactic was the first things I thought of. If a worker gets a little injured there will probably be no law suit, if they get seriously injured then the company can fight it. They may even have insurance against this sort of thing. If a machine gets destroyed then the company is in immediate trouble. Their insurance is very unlikely to pay out when they discover that they got untrained employees to tranport them. Not only will trained movers be FAR less likely to damage something they will also have insurance to cover any damage they cause so the company will not be out of pocket. – Eric Nolan Jun 29 '18 at 8:01
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In my company (very large aerospace/defence in the EU) we are theoretically not allowed to move stuff at all. Because the insurance of the equipment and of the employees does not cover it.

Good, if you borrow the hausmeister's trolley and move your computer from one room to the next no-one will bat an eyelid. But out of one building to the next? Absolutely not.

Find out how the insurance is organised. Explain to your boss that the stuff (and the engineers) might not just get broken, they would not be covered by his insurance and he would be in really deep trouble.

One of the first aid films we saw on our course showed a guy not preventing his workers from being silly with a forklift truck, one of them got killed, boss went to prison.

  • The critical words in this answer are "in the EU". The OP mentioned OSHA which is the US government body responsible for enforcing Health & Safety regulations - and US regulations are a lot weaker than EU. – Martin Bonner Jul 2 '18 at 16:10
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I've been in this situation recently, go talk to HR. (If you don't have an HR, demand training to be sure you don't hurt yourself)

Everyone wants to believe that HR is there to protect the employees. It's a nice idea, but wrong. It's there to protect the company from being sued by the employees. If you injure yourself lifting one of these objects, the company is liable and HR will have failed their role.

Talking to them will result in them having a panic attack; and you being told by the HR team to not do the lifting; and you will at the very least get training, and for free I can tell you that part of that training is to say no to lifting items that heavy without the correct supporting machines.

Once you've been on this training, you'll be able to quote your training on why you're not allowed to lift, and your supervisor will have to sort things out; not because of pressure from you, but because HR will not allow them to get you to do the moving.

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    +1 for "HR is not there to protect the employees, it's there to keep the company from getting sued." – arp Jun 30 '18 at 8:31
  • We don't all live in the US. The point is valid, but the phrasing is US-specific. – reinierpost Jul 3 '18 at 13:03
  • @reinierpost But the question is US specific; and while the example is from the UK I happen to know that the same will apply in the US; you're welcome to hunt down the US laws to be sure though - or ask in the law.stackexchange to find out. – UKMonkey Jul 3 '18 at 13:06
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No, no, no, no, no. Do not move these items. Better to hire professionals who have the training and are insured for these activities.

I would ask if your company has a legal department or at least a lawyer they work with. Getting an legal opinion that this is a 'really bad idea' should dissuade your employer from doing this on the cheap (which is what they are doing). Having employees do this and having something tragic happen could cost them their business.

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Perhaps you can contact the company your employer gets its liability insurance from. OSHA can be slow to move, but the insurance company can be very quick to cancel a policy in case of such blatant negligence. (It's more likely, though, that they will simply refuse to pay the resulting claims.)

Even just spelling out to management that their proposal is likely to void their insurance on this sensitive and expensive equipment may be enough to convince people who don't care about employee safety that their plan carries unacceptable risks.

Make sure that your refusal to do this work without proper safety measures is documented in writing, and if possible get copies to all of the legal officers of the corporation. Make it impossible for them to claim that they didn't know.

Document everything. Who said what when. Who promised professional movers. Who asked the staff to move the equipment. Who decided that you should roll the things up the steep hill instead of bringing the truck to the door.

If you do this in email, get copies offsite out of reach of the corporate IT department -- if things go horribly wrong email may get deleted.

10

Offer your management a safer alternative. Get a quote from professionals to move the machines. Make it easy for the company to do the safe thing.

In the olden days I worked in a place where 10 people worked in a workshop and 10 people worked at desks. About once a month we needed to move something very big and heavy out of the workshop. Everyone helped. We moved very slowly and one person gave all the instructions so there was no confusion. It was a fun break from the desk job. Most of the time nobody got hurt. That was a different time and less developed country. You couldn't ask people to do that there now.

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    "Most of the time nobody got hurt". Only most? That's not exactly a good thing. – GOATNine Jun 26 '18 at 16:36
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    @user88622 My suggestion to you is that you ask management to personally show you how the first 5 units are moved for training purposes. If there is a next time you ask them if they want to send you on a training course and arrange all the PPE, rigging, machinery and insurance because you did not fully grasp the training exercise on this occasion. – KalleMP Jun 26 '18 at 18:17
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    @GOATNine I can only remember one time when someone who we liked got hurt. – Ben Mz Jun 26 '18 at 21:49
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    @BenMz How many times did people you dislike get hurt? – Dawood ibn Kareem Jun 26 '18 at 23:08
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    IMHO "Get a quote from professionals" is the correct answer to the management's "You figure it out" statement – colmde Jun 27 '18 at 15:44
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This is a health and safety issue and you and your colleagues clearly aren't qualified.

Plain and simple.

Get a few of them together if possible, talk to HR and Management that you don't feel safe to do that kind of dangerous work and respectfully decline.

Citing laws, regulations, OSHA and union related guidelines will help your case.

Reminding them of potential financial and legal repercussions in the case of damage to property or injury and death of employees or third parties are other valid points to raise.

DO NOT GIVE IN !!

If they insist or threaten with punitive measures or termination seek legal and OSHA advice immediately.

0

A bit late since the move should meanwhile be over, but still. There is absolutely no way you could, or should do this, for too many reasons to even know where to start.

But of course, there's theory and there's practice. In reality, showing good will but having a little "accident" early on that day and calling in sick for the remainder might be the smartest thing to do. Unluckily, with that sprained ankle, you can do no lifting.
Because, you know, the person who complains first about very reasonable concerns is the first to be fired. That's life. So, although you are absolutely entitled to refuse this crazy endeavor, it will come down onto you negatively if you are the trouble man (even moreso as you seem to have what looks like a "typical US-style management"). If nothing else, you get a negative rating at the end of the FY. Nobody likes the trouble man. We want solutions, not complaints. Pussy.

Moving typical "machinery" on their typical little wheels (at that weight, probably cast metal) works -- if the ground is even. Otherwise, no way, forget it. Pitted road? Got suicide tendencies? The possibly best thing that can happen is one of the wheels getting stuck in a pit and the machine becoming unmovable thereafter. That's the absolutely best thing that can happen (and something much more desastrous is more likely).

The idea of moving something of any considerable weight, let alone 450kg, up a 45° pathway for half a block on pitted ground as pointed out in an explanatory comment is just outright hilarious. Even assuming that this may work is unreal. Try and walk 45° uphill for half a block with no weight.
Some of the steepest roads on the planet have an inclination of around 35%, which is a mere 17-18°. Usually, there's warning signs for as little as 10% already (for good reason!). So you are going to push half a ton of weight on cast wheels (presumably?) uphill on a path three times as steep. You need not be a rocket scientist to see that this will either not work at all, or end badly. Makes you wonder what forklifts were invented for.

There is this thing called due diligence. Whatever your boss tells you, you still have due diligence or you get in trouble when something happens (note the wording when, not if). In a situation like this, due diligence can be assumed not to be present, so when something happens, your indemnity insurance won't pay. And of course, the blame (from management, for the lost machine) will be on the person/people having touched the machine last. So, don't be that person, don't touch it.

What could happen? I am not even going to start about this thing rolling downhill or toppling and crushing someone underneath. It's enough if someone gets his toes under one of the unforgiving wheels. I've seen people lose a couple of toes due to considerbly less heavy stuff rolling over their unprotected foot. You do wear metal-cap boots in your office, don't you... :)

Let's not think about getting yourself a hernia or a bad back either, lifting around crazy heavy stuff as an untrained office guy, without proper equipment. Nothing's gonna happen, right.

What's worst, you do not even need to get the weight on top of a part of your body to get serious harm. Once 450kg are moving, it's enough to have your hand in the wrong place (between machine and wall, or door). You cannot shout "stop" fast enough, and if you could, your co-workers couldn't stop the thing before your fingers are pulp.
Even if no body parts are in the way, you cannot shout "stop" fast enough before the rolling monster turns the entrance door to rubble. Or the photocopy machine, or whatever comes in its way. Who's going to pay?

Getting the machine onto the truck is actually a lot easier than you would think (I've done that, never having done it before). But it's still a needlessly dangerous thing, and do you really want to have the responsibility for whatever happens when that thing falls off, even without killing someone?

Anything but hiring professionals for such a thing is outright insane. Of course, there's no way you can tell that your manager, so there's the solution with that sprained ankle.

protected by Masked Man Jun 27 '18 at 2:55

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