Unnecessary risk: Boss didn’t fix safety device

by on February 10, 2011 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

“We’re not satisfied with your response to our inquiries about the formal employee complaint lodged with our agency,” said OSHA CO Bryan Olsen. “So I’m here to check out the situation in person.”

“Fair enough,” said Safety Supervisor Joe Giacone. “I thought we responded adequately to the employee complaint in our reply to you, but since you’re here, I’ll show you around.”

Complaints unfounded, but …
The supervisor and CO looked around, and the CO determined all complained-of problems had been fixed.

But just as they were leaving, the CO noticed a garbage compactor in the back parking lot. Inspecting it, he determined an interlock device wasn’t working.

The interlock was designed to stop the compactor from operating any time the compactor gate was open. Thus, when workers opened the gate and tossed trash into the compactor, the device would prevent the hydraulic ram inside from moving, even if someone pushed the start button.

“We need to get that fixed,” said Joe. Bryan said nothing, but opened the gate. There was about a 10-foot chute between the gate door and the hydraulic ram.

“Does the garbage ever get stuck in this chute and need to be cleared out?” asked Bryan.

“Yes,” said Joe. “We have a 10-foot pole to shove the garbage down if it gets stuck. Sometimes we have to use a hook to pull the garbage back, you know, to loosen it up so it will slide down the chute.”

“Speaking of sliding down the chute, if I were trying to clear a jam with that pole, not only would I be exposed to a crushing hazard, I could slip and slide right down that chute. And there would be nothing to prevent an accidental startup.”

“That’s very unlikely,” said Joe. “Our people don’t stand above the chute to start with, they kneel down and poke the garbage with the pole. And I think the 10 feet between the ram and door prevents any accidental crushing.”

Bryan wrote a citation, but the company challenged it.

The decision
The company got the citation dismissed. The OSHA judges said that the CO failed to show an employee was exposed to a hazard.

The OSHA judges didn’t buy the CO’s argument that using a 10-foot pole exposed a worker to the crush-point. They also called the CO’s contention that a worker could slip into the chute “speculative” and not supported by the evidence.

But the OSHA judges did note that an inoperable interlock device was unsafe, and needed to be fixed immediately.

Unnecessary risk
In this case, an engineering control (i.e., the interlock device) wasn’t working and the supervisor knew it. He was taking an unnecessary risk. In cases like this, it only takes one unthinking worker for this story to have an unhappy ending.

Best bet: Make sure safety devices remain in working order. If devices aren’t working, get maintenance to repair them as promptly as possible.

Cite: Secretary of Labor v. Garden Ridge, No. 10-1082, OSHRC.

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