Machine guard failure: Did supervisor put machine operator at risk?

by on June 30, 2011 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network
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Based on the facts presented below, how do you think the courts ruled?

Sometimes, a machine needs an “adjustment” to keep going. But fixing a problem should never take priority over safety.

On returning from a two-week vacation, John Barsky resumed his job operating a vertical mill on the manufacturing floor. He called over his supervisor, George Nelson, when he found the machine wasn’t working properly.

George showed John how to operate the machine from a different position.

“Yeah, it works better now, but I don’t like how close my hands get to some of the unguarded parts of the mill,” said John.

“As long as you’re careful, it’s not a big deal,” George said.

“I’ll give it a try, but I still don’t like it,” John responded.

A few hours later, John’s hand got caught in a piece of the unguarded machinery.

‘Minor adjustment’
After John was released from the hospital, he confronted George. “I could have lost my hand,” John said. “Then where would I be?”

“I’m sorry it happened, but workers’ comp will take care of you,” said George.

“This isn’t about money,” said John. “You risked my safety to keep a defective machine going.”

“The vertical mill worked fine with just a minor adjustment,” George said. “No one got hurt until now.”

“That ‘minor adjustment’ meant working near unguarded parts,” said John. “What do you think machine guards are for?”

John sued the company. The company asked for a dismissal.

Did the company get it?

Case gets greenlight
No, a judge refused the company’s request to dismiss John’s claims, a sign that the lawsuit will likely get settled out of court.

The judge said there was some evidence that the supervisor knew the machine could hurt someone, but failed to take action to reduce the risk.

You can avoid accidents like this three ways:

  • Make sure all machinery is in working order through routine inspections, maintenance and prompt repairs.
  • Don’t rely on luck. “Be careful” amounts to “let’s hope for the best until this maintenance work order comes through.” That’s safety by luck.
  • Don’t shrug off safety concerns. Listen and respond to employees’ complaints.

Cite: McCullough v. Hackney.

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