In a split decision made by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, federal justices sided with the Occupational Safety & Health Administration in its interpretation of a statute that sets the standard for machine guarding.
The law in question in 29 CFR 1910.212(a)(1).
This standard was applied by OSHA inspectors who came to investigate after the death of a worker at a St. Louis manufacturing plant. At the time, worker had been using a machine with an unguarded lathe. The lathe had at one time been equipped with protective guards, but at some point, they had been removed.
According to court records in Perez v. Loren Cook Co., the case involves an industrial manufacturer of air circulating equipment. Lathes are industrial turning machines that help to mold and form metal discs. The machines hold heavily-lubricated pieces of metal that are rapidly rotated so the operator can use tools to shape the metal as needed.
In May 2009, a worker was shaping a 12-pound piece of metal when the metal chunk flew out of the machine. It struck him traveling approximately 50- to 70 mph. The worker was killed instantly. Even after striking the worker, the metal piece flew another 20 feet along the floor before crashing into metal shelving behind him.
OSHA conducted an investigation of the accident and ultimately issued two citations against the company for seven violations. One of those involved failure to put barrier guards to protect workers from ejected workpieces.
The relevant statute says that one or more method of machine guarding has to be provided to protect operators and other workers in the area from ingoing nip points, as well as flying chips, sparks and parts.
OSHA determined that the company’s failure to use these barrier guards to prevent the ejection of workpiece resulted in a catastrophic breakdown of the machine, and it violated the law. The agency fined the company $70,000 for each violation, for a total of $490,000 in fines.
Company sought review from an ALJ, who after extensive review found that the law cited by OSHA didn’t apply in this case because the statute pertained to point-of-contact risks, not necessarily workpieces flying out of the machine.
OSHA appealed, and the decision of the ALJ was overturned.
Our Charlotte workers’ compensation attorneys recognize that these kinds of tragic incidents should never happen. But companies can be held responsible to pay death benefits to surviving family members. Workers’ compensation death benefits in North Carolina can be paid for up to 400 weeks, or for the remainder of a widow’s lifetime (excluding remarriage).
If you have lost a loved one in a work-related accident, you will need legal representation to ensure you receive just compensation.
If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.
Perez v. Loren Cook Co., Oct. 13, 2015, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth cuit
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Fairchild v. Kentucky Fried Chicken – Workplace Slip-and-Fall, Oct. 8, 2015, Charlotte Workers’ Compensation Attorney Blog