When workers must clean or maintain machinery, they must have a way to secure the machinery in a way that no energy is unleashed on the worker. OSHA’s lockout and tagout regulations ensure that employers have a plan and method to lockout equipment and to train employees. With the large numbers of injuries to workers in Texas, this is very important for employers to follow and know.
Justin Hill: Welcome to Hill Law Firm Cases, a podcast discussing real-world cases handled by Justin Hill and the Hill Law Firm. For confidentiality reasons, names and amounts of any settlements have been removed. However, the facts are real, and these are the cases we handle on a day-to-day basis.
In law school, we were able to take a class called Personal Injury Trial Law from a local injury lawyer. We joked that the class was show and tell because of what he did in his teaching methods was more akin to showing and telling us the type of work he does, the reason his job exists, the hazards that plaintiff’s lawyers and injury lawyers had been able to eradicate from society, and generally, it was entertaining, in that it was so real world for us.
Constitutional law is not something people sit around and talk about, but everybody knows somebody that’s been in a car crash, and a lot of people know someone that’s been injured on the job. I remember one of the stories he told us was about a man who lost both of his hands while at work. He worked with a metal press, and what he had to do was put sheet metal in this press, and then the metal press would stamp out little circular disks.
The way the machine was built was that he had to position both of the sheets of metal and the stamp in a certain location, but then to operate the stamp, he had to push two buttons at the same time. Those buttons were about four feet apart. If you think about it, he had to be able to use both of his hands to push those buttons. The reason it was designed that way was so you wouldn’t get your hands stuck in the equipment. What you didn’t want was your hand to be there when the stamp came down.
At some point, the employer decided that that was slowing down the process, so they removed the hand buttons that required two buttons at once and replaced it with a foot pedal. Well, as you can imagine, removing that safety equipment meant there was nothing stopping that energy and force if a hand was in the way. One day, this man was doing his job as he had done for about 10 years, but he was using the foot pedal that had been added to the machine. He pushed it while his hands weren’t out of the way, and they were both partially amputated.
I remember thinking how crazy that was, and now that I’ve done this job for over a decade, I realize that some employers care that much about speeding up processes and that much about making more money per hour of work. We’ve been talking about OSHA violations and the most common OSHA violations. One of the most common OSHA violations is violations of the lockout/tagout procedures outlined by OSHA.
Lockout/tagout is intended to help employees avoid getting injured by hazardous energy. Different types of energy sources include hydraulic, pneumatic, mechanical, electrical, chemical, thermal, or other sources of energy that can come from machines or equipment, and that those types of energy can be hazardous.
What we know is that oftentimes, machinery and equipment have to be maintained, and when equipment and machinery have to be maintained, there needs to be some way to secure them, so that the parties maintaining them won’t be injured by some hazardous energy being unloaded into them or a part of their body. What we know is that hazardous energy, such as mechanical energy, which I was talking about with the man who lost a portion of his hands, that type of energy needs to be harnessed or stopped when equipment is being worked on.
If it’s not, people can be injured. Employees can be injured. They can be killed, electrocuted, burned, crushed. They can lose portions of their body. They can have degloving injuries, cuts. There’s all different types of injuries. What OSHA requires are certain procedures called lockout/tagout procedures. What that is intended to do is to make sure that the hazardous energy is controlled whenever somebody is working on some piece of equipment.
Think about it this way. That pneumatic press we were talking about earlier, if you’re working on it, you don’t want it to come on while you’re under it. There are certain procedures, whether it be a chain or a lock, where you can ensure that that piece of equipment cannot move while it is being maintained. What we know is it’s one of the most common causes of injuries on the work site are violations of lockout/tagout procedures. There’s no real blanket answer to what is a lockout/tagout, because every situation is different.
Employers are required to develop and maintain lockout/tagout energy control programs at their work site. There are different devices and equipment that can be made and maintained that ensure that workers aren’t going to be putting themselves in danger of injury when they are working on equipment.
Another thing that employers are required to do under OSHA regulations is not only to have a plan and a program, but they have to make sure their equipment can be locked out and tagged out, so that it can be worked on. What I can’t do is go into every single OSHA provision regarding lockout/tagout procedures, but it’s important to just think that if you’re working on something that could be dangerous, there should be a way to alleviate that danger. That’s the intention of the lockout/tagout OSHA regulations.
What we know is that if somebody is injured on the job, their employers are usually going to try to blame them. What we also know is that OSHA regulations put a lot of responsibilities on the employers that they can’t just push off onto their employees. One of those responsibilities is that they maintain a safe work environment. In maintaining that safe work environment, they have to have properly implemented and followed lockout and tagout procedures.