Vigilant Blog

News, trends and analysis in employment law, HR, safety & workers' comp

Jan 19, 2023

Machine guard violations lead to criminal charges

Safety and Health 

An Alabama manufacturer has pled guilty to willfully violating OSHA regulations stemming from the company’s practice of removing safety guards on a moving piece of equipment, which caused the tragic death of an employee. The company manufactured flat rectangular plastic sheets by feeding raw materials through large rollers, which often got tangled with plastic as it was fed through the machinery. The machine was equipped with a “cage” or barrier guard to protect employees from accessing the rollers while they were operating. Employees routinely raised the guard to cut tangled plastic off the rollers, which the company was aware of and didn’t try to stop. Even worse, new employees were trained to bypass the guards and cut tangled plastic off the rollers while they were operating. As a result of the fatality, the company will now face federal criminal charges due to its willful OSHA violation (Dept. of Justice press release, Jan. 11, 2023).

Tips: As the Department of Justice noted, “this victim’s tragic death was entirely preventable.” Both employers and workers must understand that machine guards exist for a reason: to protect individuals from the dangers inherent in operating that piece of machinery. Machine guards should never be disabled, tampered with, or altered as a workaround for speeding up the manufacturing process. Not only will those actions put your employees’ lives in jeopardy, they also violate OSHA regulations, which could lead to criminal charges as in this case. Your safety leaders must set a good example for employees by following the rules of machine guarding and enforcing safety standards when they see employees removing or altering those guards. Their support for your lockout-tagout (hazardous energy control) procedure is critical. It’s also vital to know how new employees are being trained; if experienced coworkers are telling them it’s okay to bypass machine guards without following proper lockout procedures, they’ll think that’s how the job gets done.

Vigilant’s “New Hire Safety Leadership Training” is a great way to learn how to incorporate care into your safety program. When employees understand that you are focused on their safety and well-being, they will be less likely to take shortcuts that will put their lives in danger.

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