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One Thing Leads to Another – OSHA Reporting Requirements and Machine Guarding Citation

One consequence of OSHA’s new requirement that all amputations must be reported to the Agency is an increased focus on machine guarding issues. A significant number of amputations are caused by machines that either lack proper guarding or because the employees or contractors override that guarding. Employers need to take some actions, given this trend.

First and foremost, employers need to train employees about what the purpose of the machine guarding is. Employees do at times remove, override, or avoid machine guarding protections for various reasons. Training employees about why that machine guarding is there might prevent some of this hazard creation. Also, employees need to be specifically instructed not to disable electronic forms of machine guarding. While it seems common sense, employees in a hurry or who want to be more efficient sometimes do not think clearly about what they are doing. Adequate training might prevent some of these mistakes and at least provide an employer a potential defense of unavoidable employee misconduct. Also, it is important for employees to be trained on how their physical position on the plant floor relates to machine guarding. In a number of cases, I have seen situations where employees have simply walked into areas where the employer did not intend them to be and which are therefore not adequately guarded. Employers need to train employees about why it is that they need to stay in particular areas when they are operating machinery. Consider floor markings and signs to remind employees of where the safe zones for operations are.

Second, just because machine guarding was initially on the machinery, does not mean it will always be there. Sometimes machine guarding is damaged during operations such that it no longer adequately guards the machinery. Other times, someone decides that the machine guarding is just getting in the way of efficient operation and removes it. Employers need to have a system to periodically walk the plant to ensure that the machine guarding that was originally there, is still there and still doing the job.

Finally, make sure that you at least provide the same level of guarding that was provided by the manufacturer. It is very difficult to defend against a machine guarding citation when OSHA can show that the manufacturer’s suggested machine guarding was not used. Conversely, even if the manufacturer’s guard is deemed to be inadequate, an employer is likely to have a good defense against a willful classification. That said, employers should recognize that OSHA has been known to cite employers for guards that it considered inadequate even though it had been installed by the manufacturer. Employers need to consider the circumstances in which they use the particular machinery, how the employees interact with that machinery, and whether the manufacturer’s guarding is really sufficient.

The number of amputation reports to OSHA has shown the dangers to employees’ fingers, hands and arms in the modern workplace. To avoid ever having to make that call to OSHA, be proactive: question the manufacturer, audit your machine guarding, and train your employees on the importance of operations consistent with appropriate guarding of the machinery.

This information is provided by Vinson & Elkins LLP for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended, nor should it be construed, as legal advice.