“I’ve concluded my investigation of your worker’s hand injury,” said Tammy, the compliance officer, “and I’ve determined that you were in violation of our machine-guarding rules. I’m citing you.”
“You’re jumping to conclusions,” replied George, the supervisor. “We can’t install a guard around the moving parts on that equipment because the operator has to be able to access that portion of the device. Instead, we provide staffers with a push guard they can use for protection.”
“The fact that your crew member suffered severe laceration injuries is proof that your push guard isn’t effective,” said Tammy.
“You’re wrong,” replied George. “The operator got hurt because he failed to use the guard.”
“You’re trying to dodge the issue,” said Tammy. “The machine wasn’t equipped with a stationary guard, and you failed to provide an alternative method to ensure workers stayed safe while operating it.”
“We have multiple methods to keep people safe in lieu of a fixed guard,” said George. “For instance, we require operators to keep their hands at least four inches from moving parts while running that machine.”
“Your methods didn’t work very well this time,” said Tammy. “Plus, our records indicate that you’ve previously been cited four times for failing to adequately guard machines.”
“You can’t drag up old citations to justify new ones,” said George. “We’ll fight your fine.”
Did the company win?
Yes. The company won. An administrative law judge tossed out the fine.
The judge first said that the employer couldn’t install a stationary guard on the machine because it wouldn’t have been feasible to operate the device with a fixed guard.
Then the judge ruled that the push guard was an acceptable guarding method. The injured crew member failed to use the push guard, but that was the result of employee misconduct rather than a violation of safety rules by the company.
And the judge noted that previous citations couldn’t be used to justify future alleged violations.
What it means: It can sometimes be difficult to figure out how to protect staffers operating dangerous machines that can’t be easily guarded.
If certain equipment in your operation is difficult to guard, talk to your safety manager about your options. In this case, operators were provided with a push guard, which was a sensible alternative to a stationary guard.
You might also want to consider other creative alternatives. For instance, you could paint a yellow line on the floor around a machine that can’t be guarded, then train crew members to stay outside the yellow line while operating the equipment.
Based on Secretary of Labor v. H-E-B, LP.
(From the March 29, 2021, issue of Safety Alert for Supervisors. To sign up for a no-obligation trial subscription right now, please click here.)