He turned the machine off – but someone turned it back on

by on February 22, 2011 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

Based on the facts presented below, how do you think OSHA (or the courts) ruled?

“Sheesh, Vern, didn’t your guy know to shut off the machine before he went poking around in it?” Safety Director Bob Richards asked supervisor Vern Destry.

“Of course he did,” Vern said. “But somehow the switch got turned back on while he had his hand inside.”

“Leading to a forearm amputation and an OSHA inspection,” Bob fumed. “But now your guy, what’s his name …”

“Ray Miller,” Vern supplied.

Intentional wrongdoing?
“Yeah, Ray Miller, is suing us for intentional wrongdoing,” Bob said. “As if we didn’t have enough aggravation with the OSHA fine and the workers comp costs.”

“That’s silly,” Vern said.

“Nobody tried to hurt Ray. Between you and me, I think his co-worker turned the machine back on, but he didn’t know Ray was still cleaning inside. It did take Ray a lot longer than usual. Ignorance, sure. Intent to injure? No way.”

Did Ray, the injured worker, win his lawsuit for damages above and beyond workers compensation?

The decision
No, the company won.

The court said that for Ray to prevail, he would have had to show that his employer had “substantial certainty” he would be injured while cleaning the blender. This Ray couldn’t do. Whatever caused the machine to come back on while he had his arm in it, the company couldn’t have been “substantially certain” it would happen, the court said.

In this case, the company chose after the accident to install an interlock on the machine, so that when the door was opened it automatically cut the power off. But the lockout/tagout point is still a strong one.

When employees merely turn off the power to a piece of equipment they’re cleaning or fixing, they’re vulnerable to the power – and the equipment – coming back on in a variety of ways. Somebody can accidentally jostle the switch, somebody may not know they’re inside the machine, or somebody can forget.

Proper lockout – where each worker has his/her own lock, and only that person or an authorized supervisor can open it – protects workers from such accidents, ignorance or forgetfulness.

Cite: Calavano v. Federal Plastics Corp., No. A-0353-09T1, N.J. Sup., 8/18/10.

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