Was lack of machine guard an accident waiting to happen?

by on June 16, 2011 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

Too many lawsuits are filed by employees who are injured after becoming entangled in a machine because a machine guard was not where it was supposed to be. Here is a case with an interesting twist on that old story.

Nancy Davidson still used an old power press – the pre-OSHA kind where the worker’s hands were frequently near pinch points.

The company upgraded the press about 10 years ago and the upgrades moved the operator further away from the pinch points. That should have done the trick safety-wise – except that a worker could still defeat the safeguards.

Heavy metal
“Nancy, this accident looks like an operator error,” said Supervisor Dale Tegeder.

“I don’t think so,” said Nancy. “These old presses are extremely dangerous. They don’t have any machine guards. I was bound to get hurt working on them.”

“Not if you followed our safety procedures,” said Dale. “You slipped the press into automatic mode and then stood too close to the press.”

“I thought the machine was about to jam,” said Nancy.

“Yeah, but we had you stand clear for a reason,” said Dale. “You were so close that the machine kicked out a piece of metal, and it broke your foot.”

“You should have had a guard on the machine,” said Nancy.

She sued the company for a payout beyond workers comp, saying the unguarded presses meant an accident was sure to happen.

The Decision
The appeals court ruled against Nancy, saying the company didn’t purposely remove a machine guard. The company’s system, while far from ideal, wasn’t so unsafe that someone was sure to get hurt. Add in Nancy’s violation of the safety rules, and the case was dismissed.

The company won the battle, but Nancy took the case all the way through an expensive trial and appeal proceedings first.

Supervisor’s take home:

  • Remind workers never to put a machine in automatic mode and then walk away from the controls.
  • Make sure machine-unjamming procedures don’t tempt workers to act unsafely. Workers may take unnecessary chances without frequent reminders about safe ways of inspecting and clearing machines.

Cite: Nunez v. Steel Forming Inc., No. G038568, Cal. App.

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