Educate workers about new and ‘optional’ safety policies

by on August 2, 2011 · 1 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

Additional safety measures are usually a good idea, unless it’s unclear when to use them. Here, an employer had to rethink its policy on the use of extra machine guards:

“Larry is going to be out for a while,” Safety Director Gene Donaldson said. “He’s going to have surgery on his shoulder tomorrow.”

“I’m glad that’s all he needs,” said Supervisor Kyle Jones. “I saw his accident. It should have been worse. He was operating our roll-threading machine, and his shirt got tangled in a spinning rod. Ripped his shirt clean off and knocked him down, to boot.”

“Larry’s lucky it’s only a shoulder,” Gene agreed. “But he’s getting workers comp and a few months off to recover. He’ll be fine. What’s not fine is that the accident happened.”

“I agree,” said Kyle. “Larry told me something was up with the machine guards, but I didn’t get the whole story.”

“Larry said his shirt got tangled because the additional machine guards had been removed from the roll-threader,” said Gene. “Does that make sense to you?”

Not mandatory
“Yes and no,” Kyle said. “I think if clothes get entangled, they’re too loose. But because the optional factory-installed machine guards were removed, he may have been at greater risk.”

“Optional guards?” asked Gene.

“The additional machine guards aren’t mandatory, even the manual says so,” said Kyle. “It depends on the machine’s configuration.”

“So it’s possible additional machine guards weren’t normally used on the roll-threader,” said Gene. “But assuming they were, why would someone remove the additional machine guards?”

“They were probably removed by someone on a previous shift,” Kyle said. “Some people think they get in the way, depending on what they’re doing. Supervisors encourage the additional guards, but we leave it up to the machine operator to decide whether to use them.”

First time
“This is our first accident like this,” said Gene. “Maybe we need to tighten up our policy on when people need to use the extra machine guards, and in what machine configurations. That’ll eliminate the guesswork.”

Larry sued, arguing that the employer should have known he would get hurt by requiring him to work on equipment that had one level of machine guards removed.

The company argued that it was protected by workers comp immunity, the extra guards weren’t mandatory and no one ever got hurt before.

The company won. The court said Larry failed to prove the company behaved negligently or even irresponsibly, saying:

  • Company practice and the equipment’s manual both supported the company’s argument that machine operators had the discretion to determine whether to use additional machine guards.
  • No one had ever been hurt before while using the machine.

Therefore, the company had no way of knowing Larry would get hurt. The worker was limited to his workers comp award for his injuries.

Note: If you have “optional” safety procedures – make sure workers understand their choices and when’s the best time to use them. Otherwise, workers may just guess – or allow others to choose for them, as in this case.

Cite: Gaines v. MQSW Acquisition Co., No. 2007-L-200, Ohio App.

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1 Comment on This Post

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