Contributed by Poirier Law Firm
Federal laws require companies to protect employees who work with dangerous machinery. Two recent finger-amputation incidents at a Primex Plastics Corporation plant in Georgia are a stark reminder that there can be severe consequences for employers and employees when safety efforts fall short.
On February 28, 2015, a Primex employee lost two fingers while working with a shearing machine at Primex’s manufacturing facility in Oakwood, Georgia. The employee was attempting to remove material that was jammed in the machine, which is used to cut plastic. Less than two weeks later, during a U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspection conducted as part of its investigation into the incident, Primex disclosed to OSHA that a second finger-amputation incident occurred at the same facility the night before the inspection on a similar machine.
Primex now faces $141,000 in penalties for 22 safety and health violations, including 18 serious violations, which include a failure to provide a workplace free of recognized hazards, ignoring procedures to prevent machines from sudden start-up during maintenance and service, and failing to ensure properly guarded machinery such as shearing machines and a drill press.
Machinery-related accidents are one of the leading causes of workplace injuries each year. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, machinery caused 50,670 non-fatal workplace injuries in the private industry in 2013 alone; and machine guarding and lockout/tagout violations consistently rank among OSHA’s annual top 10 list of the most frequent violations for which citations are issued. These types of safety failures can result in significant injuries, such as amputations, leading to difficult and expensive recoveries and permanent disabilities for employees.
There are important steps that must be taken by employers in order to adequately safeguard their machinery and avoid injuries:
- Identify hazards and implement proper protection systems. Safeguards should be in place to make certain that there is no bodily contact with hazardous components of a machine. These may include guards, two-hand controls, automatic shutoff, sensors, physical barriers, and lockout/tagout procedures.
- Conduct regular maintenance reviews and inspections. Machinery and related safeguards should be inspected regularly to ensure that they are in place and working properly.
- Require employee training. Ongoing training on the proper use of the machinery and related safeguards is vital for all employees who operate and maintain the machines.
The Primex amputation incidents should also remind employees working with dangerous machinery that they should exercise care, caution, and always follow safety protocols to protect themselves and others working with them. For example, an employee may be tempted, and even pressured by management, to circumvent safety procedures to speed up production. This is why employers and their employees must work together to ensure that everyone at the company is educated about safety procedures and the reasons for them.
If you are an employee who has suffered a machinery-related injury, such as an amputation, it is important to consult with an experienced lawyer. Lawyers with expertise working with employees who have suffered these types of injuries will be able to assist clients with navigating their recovery, including helping you find the right doctors and experts necessary to protect your rights and help you recover.