When a company runs heavy machinery, lockout/tagout procedures are crucial. They ensure that employees are not surprised by a sudden startup of a machine they thought was shut down. This is especially important during cleaning and maintenance when physical safeguards like handguards may be disabled.
Lack of proper procedures leads to tragedy
Recently, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited a frozen pizza manufacturer in Crest Hill for $145,027 in proposed penalties because it failed to implement lockout/tagout procedures when a machine was to be cleaned. A 42-year-old worker was killed while cleaning the machine in July 2021.
Unfortunately, Rich Products Corp., a Buffalo, New York-based food manufacturer, has “an extensive history” of workplace safety and health violations, according to OSHA. As a result, the lockout/tagout violation is considered willful and, as it resulted in a fatality, Rich Products has been placed in OSHA’s Severe Violators Program.
“This preventable tragedy is another example of why employers must ensure lockout/tagout procedures are in place before allowing workers to clean or operate machinery,” said OSHA’s Chicago South Area Director in a press release. “Employers who fail to follow safety standards and train workers in operating procedures will be held accountable.”
Rich Products Corp operates about 100 global locations and its annual sales exceed $4 billion. OSHA’s press release did not say whether the company plans to contest the citation.
Severe injuries can occur in machinery accidents
Unfortunately, a lack of lockout/tagout procedures can be deadly, as happened in this case. Because the machine guards often have to be disabled in order to clean heavy machinery, a sudden power surge can often result in the loss of a finger or hand.
Even worse, unscrupulous employers sometimes deliberately remove safety guards from equipment not for cleaning but to increase production. When an employer removes a safety guard in order to increase production, the likelihood of partial or total amputation of a body part significantly increases. When this set of events takes place, the injured worker is practically left with the sole remedy for their injury being workers’ compensation because the injured worker cannot maintain a claim for manufacturing defects against the machine maker when the employer removes the safety guard. Instead, the remedy would be limited to workers’ compensation, which doesn’t include damages for pain and suffering.
The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act does allow for compensation in loss-of-body-part cases, based on a detailed schedule that assigns a certain number of weeks of compensation based on what was lost. But there is no compensation beyond this, unless a worker’s permanent partial disability exceeds the statutory schedule for loss of a body part. There are also no attorneys’ fees available for statutory loss when it is paid voluntarily.
Loss of part or all of a body part is inherently traumatic and can lead to other complications, such as PTSD. If you are injured or a loved one has been killed due to a lack of lockout/tagout procedures, you should immediately notify the employer and apply for workers’ compensation. This can cover your medical treatment, including any necessary mental health care, and provide you with needed income while you recover.
Illinois workers’ comp also pays death benefits to surviving family members. Only certain relationships qualify for benefits, however, such as spouses or dependent children.