“You’re exposing your workers to an obvious hazard because the machines they’re using aren’t adequately guarded,” said Tammy, the compliance officer. “I’m citing you.”
“We don’t need to guard that equipment because there’s no need for operators to get anywhere near the zone of danger,” replied George, the supervisor.
“I disagree,” said Tammy. “Employees might have to reach into the equipment.”
“That wouldn’t happen,” said George. “Once the operator hits the button to start the production cycle, he or she has no reason to access the device.”
“The worker might have to clear away debris,” said Tammy.
“There are handheld air hoses positioned right next to the equipment,” said George. “If debris builds up inside the machine, the operator simply uses the air hose.”
“But someone could be accidentally knocked into the unit during the production cycle,” said Tammy. “In that case, the person could be seriously injured.”
“That has never happened here,” said George. “In fact, we’ve had zero incidents and zero injuries involving that type of machine for the entire time we’ve been using these devices. You’re creating a hazard out of thin air so you can penalize us for no good reason.”
“The equipment needs to be guarded,” said Tammy. “The citation sticks.”
“We’ll fight this citation,” said George.
Did the company win?
Yes. The company won. The OSHA Review Commission dismissed the citation.
The commission said OSHA failed to show that operators were actually exposed to a potentially hazardous condition.
According to the commission, there was little chance that an operator would reach into the equipment during the production cycle to clear away debris because there was an air hose available for that task.
The commission also noted that no one had ever been knocked into the machine and that there had been no previous injuries or incidents involving the equipment.
What it means: Target your safety initiatives
Don’t forget the importance of targeting your safety efforts on tasks that could actually lead to injuries. In this case, for instance, there was no need for the equipment to be guarded because there was no reason for workers to reach into the device.
When analyzing potential risks posed by different machines, be sure to consider the likelihood that someone could actually get hurt while using the device. If the chance of an injury is low or nonexistent, you probably don’t need to bend over backward to protect people from an improbable hazard.
Based on Secretary of Labor v. Dover High Performance Plastics, Inc.
(From the Oct. 5, 2020, issue of Safety Alert for Supervisors. To download the current issue right now, please click here.)