“Your crew member suffered a severe hand injury because you had an unguarded pinch point on a conveyor system,” said Tammy, the compliance officer. “I’m citing you.”
“It was unfortunate that the worker hurt his hand,” replied George, the supervisor. “However, there was no way for us to predict that he could’ve been exposed to that unguarded pinch point.”
“I disagree,” said Tammy. “Your staffer was repairing a conveyor system. After the fix was made, he wanted to verify that the system was working properly, so he kneeled down and looked under the conveyor.”
“That’s correct,” said George. “But as he was standing up, the worker mistakenly put his hand in the unguarded pinch point on the conveyor system. He suffered several crushed bones and a degloved hand.”
“The man wouldn’t have been injured if the pinch point had been guarded,” said Tammy.
“He wouldn’t have been hurt if he’d followed the procedures for the task,” said George. “There was nothing in the procedures that called for the worker to put his hand in the area of the pinch point.”
“The injury could’ve been avoided if you had followed our guarding rule,” said Tammy.
“You have to prove that we knew the injury was predictable,” said George. “In this case, we wouldn’t have expected the worker to put his hand anywhere near the pinch point while making the repair. We’ll fight your fine.”
Did the company win?
Yes. The company won. An administrative law judge tossed out the citation.
The judge decided that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) failed to prove the employer could’ve predicted the employee would put his hand in the unguarded pinch point.
If the injured staffer had followed the procedures for repairing the conveyor, he wouldn’t have placed his hand anywhere near the hazardous area. Therefore, the incident couldn’t have been predicted by his employer.
Because the company couldn’t have expected the worker to be exposed to the pinch point, there was no violation of OSHA’s guarding standard.
What it means: Look for unguarded pinch points
While the employer in this case dodged a bullet due to a legal technicality, it still ended up with an injured crew member and unwanted OSHA scrutiny.
All of that could’ve been avoided if the company had installed a guard on the pinch point in the conveyor system.
That’s why it’s important to periodically walk through your work area searching for places where a safety guard might be a good idea. Sometimes, the need for a guard is obvious; other times, you have to look a little harder to uncover a potentially dangerous pinch point.
Based on Secretary of Labor v. Purvis Industries.
(From the May 24, 2021, issue of Safety Alert for Supervisors. To start your no-obligation trial subscription to the publication right now, please click here.)