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Defective Machines

Defective Machines Cause Workplace Injuries

Many On-the-Job Injuries Result from Defective Machines

Far too many American workers are seriously injured or even killed while at work. Workers’ compensation laws vary from state to state, and while these laws often provide significant compensation to injured workers, the “workers comp” system often does not cover all the same damages and/or does not cover them to the same degree that direct personal injury claims and lawsuits are able to. An experienced personal injury attorney will therefore look carefully at any potential workers’ compensation claim to determine if there are any elements for compensation that may be pursued separately from the work comp claim. Defective machines that cause on-the-job injuries are one significant cause of work-related injuries where products liability personal injury claims may be pursued in tandem with work comp claims.

Work Comp vs. Personal Injury

Workers’ compensation laws generally require employers to purchase insurance or contribute to programs that provide compensation to any of their employees who may be injured while on the job regardless of how or why the employee may have been injured. Personal injury claims are more restrictive in that they may only be pursued against individuals or companies that were somehow negligent or otherwise liable for the injuries that were suffered. Workers comp settlements are sometimes less generous than personal injury settlements, however, they sometimes provide access to certain types of compensation that personal injury claims do not. The good news is that in instances where the workplace injury resulted from some form of negligence, both personal injury claims and workers’ compensation claims can be pursued at the same time. (Although workers comp will often require some degree of reimbursement out of any personal injury settlement.) On-the-job injuries caused by defective machines, vehicles, or other workplace equipment is one such example.

How do Workplace Injuries from Defective Machines Occur?

Some on-the-job injuries result from defective machines that simply fail due to problems with their design or manufacture, resulting in injuries to workers who may be nearby when the failure occurs. Another category of injury from defective machines is related to a hazard mitigation procedure called “guarding” that seeks to minimize risks that the machine may present to workers. Injuries due to machinery and failed machine guarding is one of the top categories for annual casualty numbers according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Many workplace machines will present inherent hazards to workers simply due to the nature of their normal functioning — a power saw being used by a carpenter to cut lumber is just as capable of cutting off unwary fingers; a forklift that can easily move a heavy load to an upper shelf in a warehouse can just as easily injure a worker who may be too close when its forks drop back down. Many other such “machine hazards” may be present where the tool is purposefully cutting, bending, shaping, or moving materials exactly in the way that the tool is intended to function.

Why Should Machine Hazards be Eliminated or Reduced?

The National Safety Council (NSC) is a non-profit organization that promotes safety and health. Workplace safety is one of its primary areas of focus. Within the category of injuries from “machine operation,” the National Safety Council breaks down the types of risk into two major categories — situational risk and systemic risk. Situational risks are those inherent to the situation — a forklift can run over a worker; a band saw can cut off fingers. Systemic risks are preventive and procedural factors that can help eliminate injuries when properly addressed, or cause injuries if ignored. Machine guards — and machine guarding failures — are examples of systemic risks.

How Should Machine Hazards be Eliminated or Reduced?

Machine guards are used to keep workers from putting themselves or parts of their bodies into places where injuries may result from operation of the machine. Machine guards are one tool in a series of options that the NSC recommends that machine designers and manufacturers consider when producing their equipment:

  • The best option is to simply redesign the machine, if possible, to eliminate the hazard. Often, however, this simply isn’t possible — a band saw can only cut wood if the wood can be brought into contact with the saw, and if it’s possible for wood to contact the saw, then it’s probably possible for fingers to touch the saw as well.
  • Guarding is the second option recommended by the NSC. Machine guards come in several different categories, which we’ll discuss in a moment.
  • The third option is warnings to the user of hazards that cannot either be designed out of the machine or guarded against.
  • And the fourth option is training policies for safe operation of the equipment.

What are Machine Guards?

Machine guards are intended to keep workers and any of their body parts away from machines (or parts of those machines) that may cause them injury. These guards can be as different from one another as are the individual hazards that different machines may present. A guard on a table saw may be physical barriers to prevent hands and fingers from approaching the saw blade. A guard against forklift injuries in a warehouse may be sensors that won’t allow a doorway to open from one part of the warehouse to another if any workers are in close proximity. Interlocking guards on power equipment may require a worker to hold down separate buttons with each hand to activate the equipment, thereby ensuring that a worker can’t place one hand near the equipment’s dangerous moving parts.

“I’ll be Careful”

One primary concern with machine guards is designing against the worker who may willingly place himself or other workers at risk by trying to remove or bypass guarding in order to get the work done more quickly or easily. This becomes especially dangerous when supervisors and/or employers are also willing to ignore safety in order to speed up work.  A primary design element of a machine guard, therefore, is that it will work automatically and consistently whether the worker wants it to or not.

How a Personal Injury Attorney Can Help

Since workplace injury claims related to defective machines will typically have options for both workers’ compensation claims and personal injury claims, it is necessary to carefully evaluate which path — or both paths — should be pursued. There are pros and cons for both the work comp path and the personal injury path depending upon the specific facts of the injury, how and why it occurred, and the long-term consequences to the injured worker. A very careful consideration of these options is crucial.

Additionally, an experienced personal injury attorney will have the skills and resources necessary to properly investigate the incident to determine which causes may have been contributed by the designer and manufacturer of the equipment, by the injured worker’s employer or co-workers, or other possible defendants. All of this must be properly conducted before the work comp claim, personal injury claim, or both can be brought to a successful conclusion by negotiation, mediation, arbitration, or trial.

Watch this  video from the Pennsylvania state OSHA on how machine guarding increases worker safety: 

Sacramento Personal Injury Lawyers

I’m Ed Smith, a Sacramento Personal Injury Attorney. Defective machines at a workplace – including those with inadequately designed or implemented guarding – can cause serious, life-altering injuries. If you or a family member has been injured in a workplace incident involving a piece of machinery or other equipment, please call us at (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400 for free, friendly advice.  Or contact us through our online contact form.

I am pleased to be a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, as well as the National Association of Distinguished Counsel.

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Image Attribution: Image by Brian Odwar from Pixabay

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