Employer can’t blame worker for preventable on-the-job injury
Safety and Health
A federal appeals court recently affirmed three citations for serious safety violations following the partial amputation of an employee’s thumb at a poultry processing plant. The company had challenged the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)’s citations in federal court, arguing that the injured employee engaged in unpreventable employee misconduct by violating its rule to “keep hands off moving machinery.” The employee’s regular duties required her to hose and scrub down the outside of a large machine while the parts were moving. In order to fully scrub the outside, her hands came within seven inches of the moving parts. She then turned the machine off, locked it out, and climbed inside to clean. After cleaning the inside, she turned the machine back on and hosed it down one last time. She was injured as she scrubbed the outside when her glove got caught in the moving parts. The court said that the company should have known that the employee wasn’t locking out the machine to scrub the outside by hand. In fact, they never told her to turn off and lock out the machine before scrubbing the outside, which led to her injury. So the court concluded that the company didn’t, in fact, have an established work rule that, if followed, would have prevented the injury (Southern Hens, Inc. v. Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, 5th Cir, July 2019).
Tips For Employers: Federal OSHA and state safety and health agencies generally require employers to protect employees from preventable and foreseeable dangers in the workplace. This includes the duty to maintain and enforce equipment-specific procedures for hazardous energy control (lockout-tagout) and fully train employees on such procedures. Failing to enforce lockout-tagout procedures can result in major injuries or even death, so it’s essential that all supervisors and workers take these procedures seriously.
Members, if you have questions about your safety program or specific equipment or process safety procedures, please reach out to your Vigilant safety professional.