Frequent machine malfunctions: Is warning workers enough?

by on March 31, 2011 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network
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In a perfect world, everything would function properly, or get fixed immediately. In reality, people must operate in less-than-perfect situations.

“Looks like Gary’s accident has come back to haunt us,” said Pete DiMeglio, the safety director at a paper manufacturer. “He’s suing.”

“I guess I’m not surprised,” Supervisor Leslie Anders said. “He lost his hand operating a paper machine. I feel awful about that.”

“But here’s the kicker,” added Pete. “Gary is saying that, as his supervisor, you should have known he was going to get hurt working on a machine that has malfunctioned repeatedly.”

Touchy subject
“What?” Leslie exclaimed. “Everyone knows that particular machine is touchy. Paper machines jam all the time and you deal with it. It’s not like it burst into flames.”

“How did you tell Gary to ‘deal with it?'” Pete asked.

“I told him the same thing I tell everyone who uses that machine,” said Leslie. “I reminded him to expect the machine to jam on him at least once during his shift and that he needs to watch his hands around the pinch points when he is cutting the tail of the paper.”

“That’s when Gary’s glove got caught in the machine,” said Pete.

“Yes,” Leslie said. “I wasn’t there when it happened, but maybe I should have been.”

“Gary used that machine before with and without jamming problems and didn’t get hurt,” Pete pointed out. “No one else has been hurt on any of the paper machines, fortunately.”

“But still, I feel like there is something I could have done to prevent the accident,” said Leslie. “I wish now I had fought harder to get that machine fixed.”

Gary sued, saying the company knew he was bound to get hurt on the malfunctioning machine and asked to receive money above his worker’s comp claim. The company asked for a dismissal.

Did the company win?

Decision
Yes. The worker was limited to workers compensation for his injuries. An appeals court found that whether or not the worker would get hurt wasn’t certain.

Remember: Train employees in any specific procedures a malfunctioning piece of equipment might require. Make sure the problems aren’t the result of employee misuse and follow up on repair requests promptly.

Cite: Lackey v. Michigan Carton Inc., No. 277898, Mich. App.

photo credit: °Florian

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