A tire company operating in North Carolina will have to pay a fine and correct a safety violation cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), after the North Carolina Court of Appeals rejected the argument that OSHA wrongly interpreted the statute.
The industrial safety statute in question is found in 29 CFR 1910.23 and N.C. Gen. Stat. 95-129(1), and requires that every open-sided floor or platform that is four feet or more above an adjacent floor or ground level shall be guarded by a standard railing on all sides, except where there is an entrance to a ramp or stairway or a fixed ladder. For purposes of the law, a platform is defined as a working space that is elevated above the surrounding floor or ground, such as a balcony for the operation of machinery or equipment.
In a recent case, the question raised by defendant following a worker injury was whether it was compliant with the aforementioned statute. Defendant argued that it was compliant because the location from which the worker fell was not a “platform.” OSHA disagreed, and the appellate court sided with OSHA.
According to court records, the North Carolina Department of Labor received a complaint from a union representative who represents defendant’s workers. The complaint indicated the company required workers to stand on a surface known as a “platen,” which is circular, metal and about six feet across, where the company’s tire presses were located. When the holes on the tire presses get clogged with debris, operators have to clear those vents with a handheld drill, which means they have to climb up onto the platen, which is not guarded with any railing.
On one such occasion in 2011, a worker was doing just that and fell.
Soon thereafter, OSHA conducted an inspection of the plant and issued a citation for failing to provide a guard around the platens. The platens were 52 inches high, and the tire presses stood about seven feet above the platen, requiring those of average height to reach above their head to work on them.The state’s commissioner of labor then filed a complaint with the North Carolina Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission restating the allegations. Defendant company contested the complaint. An administrative law judge held a hearing on the issue in 2013, where it was revealed that cleaning of these devices on the platens occurred at least once a day.
The worker who fell was not seriously injured, and there is no indication that he collected workers’ compensation. The company argued the surface was safe, and there had only been one other fall associated with the platen. Still, after the complaint was filed, the company started using a heavy metal cage suspended on a forklift to raise workers to the top of the mold to clean the vents.
Defendant company insisted this was a common activity and did not pose a hazard to workers.
Commissioners in their review rejected the defendant’s more restrictive definition of the term “platform,” and decided it was applicable here. The appeals court affirmed, ordering the company to install railings and pay the $2,000 fine.
Contact the Carolina workers’ compensation lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company v. Berry, Jan. 17, 2017, Charlotte Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog
More Blog Entries:
Reece v. Sodexo, Inc. – N.C. Appeals Court Affirms Denial of Workers’ Compensation Benefits, Jan. 18, 2017, Charlotte Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog