Workplace safety expert witness advises on OSHA standards in workplace injury claim

Michael Morgenstern

Written by
— Updated on October 12, 2017

workplace safety expert witnessA workplace safety expert witness for the defense opines on a case involving a maintenance worker who lost his hand to machine that did not stop when turned off. The plaintiff was employed at a paper manufacturer as a maintenance worker. While cleaning out a fine opener machine, which he locked out and cut power to, the victim stuck his arm into the machine to clean it, as he was instructed to do. The machine had not come to a stop and amputated most of his hand.

The fine opener had no brake and no interlocking guard that would prevent a worker from accessing the machine when it was operating. The plaintiff alleges the lack of safety devices was a violation of industry standards and government regulations and that the defendants should have known it was dangerous.

 

 

Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • 1. Does OSHA require an interlocking guard?
  • 2. What safety provisions were present on the machine?

Expert Witness Response

The plaintiff was injured while in a locked door area. It was not a work station. Safety of workers in a plant like this is generally broken into two categories by regulations and standards. Production workers are generally protected by guarding at their work station. Maintenance workers are generally protected by lockout/tagout requirements in addition to training. Regulations and standards generally recognize the need for maintenance workers to remove guards that protect production workers in order to perform requisite maintenance activities.

OSHA intended its lockout/tagout standard to apply to servicing and maintenance and specifically calls out its application to stored energy, which in this matter has been called wind down. An American National Standards Institute Safety Standard for Conveyors and Related Equipment informs that production workers are associated with the concept of work station and maintenance workers are not associated with the concept of work station.

The plaintiff received training on lockout-tagout procedures and was aware of stored or residual energy. He knew the machine had teeth on it, as he had worked on installation and maintenance of it.

Additionally, there were five protections aimed at the plaintiff’s safety. There is a padlock, and the key is kept in a supervisor’s office. There was a process book with specific lockout instructions for the machine. There was a rotation indicator. There was a label on the machine very near eye level of the accident opening saying Lockout for Safety. Then there was a piece of lath in the area near the accident that could have been used as a probe to determine if the roll had stopped moving.

In short, an interlock is not the appropriate way to protect maintenance workers who need access to this location. Proper protection is via lockout/tagout procedures.

The expert is a mechanical engineer and professor of engineering and design. His classes include those related to OSHA training.

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