Workers Compensation and Removed Safety Devices
In most instances, workers who sustain injuries while on the job will be covered by workers’ compensation insurance. Often, other insurance coverages may also be available based upon the particular circumstances. For example, an employee driving a work vehicle on the job who is hit and injured by another driver who was negligent may be able to pursue both a workers’ compensation claim and a direct personal injury claim or lawsuit against the negligent driver’s auto insurance. Another important example involves workplace injuries from removed safety devices when it was the employer who removed a critical safety device or directed someone to do so.
A Direct Liability Personal Injury Claim is an Important Option to Have
Depending upon the circumstances, it may be more advantageous to pursue a workers’ comp claim rather than a personal injury claim, or vice versa. Workers’ compensation coverage will almost always be available for an employee injured on the job. It’s considered a type of “no-fault” insurance because it is intended to cover injured workers regardless of how their injuries may have occurred. Workers’ comp is often less generous, however, in its final payouts for an employee who has been very seriously injured or suffered permanent injuries. (It does have some benefits, however, for possible availability of long-term medical care.) Often, however, it may be possible to pursue both types of claims. The most advantageous situation is to have the option of choosing what type of claim (or both) to pursue.
Employers will usually pay to have workers’ compensation coverage because it usually means an injured worker can’t sue the employer directly. That’s not always the case, however, especially if the employer has done something that was a direct cause of the employee’s injury. In these cases, it’s important to have an early and thorough investigation of the circumstances to determine if a direct personal injury liability claim may be available either against an employer and/or against some other third party.
An Early and Thorough Investigation
When it appears that the workplace injury may have resulted from inadequate or missing safety devices on machinery, vehicles, or other workplace equipment, this investigation should certainly include the manufacturer and distributor of the equipment — did they design, sell, distribute, and set up equipment with proper and adequate safety devices? If not, then personal injury liability claims against those entities may be appropriate. The sooner that a thorough investigation can be completed, the better, both to preserve critical evidence and to let the injured worker and their attorney know what options are available to pursue.
Removed Safety Devices – What is the Employer’s Incentive?
Unfortunately, the safety devices that may come with workplace equipment may not stay in place for the long-term — these safety devices may often make it more difficult or slower to make use of the equipment, reducing productivity. This is intentional, in order to increase safety margins and make the equipment operator use the equipment in a slower and more careful manner. As a result, many employers and their workers may intentionally remove, disable, or bypass the safety devices for the purpose of increasing productivity and ease of use of the equipment. Unfortunately, this also results in a greater likelihood of workplace injuries from removed safety devices.
The Power Press Exception
The laws regarding workers’ compensation insurance in California are contained in the state Labor Code, beginning at Section 3200. Exceptions that may make an employer directly liable when safety devices have been intentionally omitted or removed may be found in various parts of the law, but one that is most directly applicable is the “power press exception” which is detailed in Labor Code 4558. A power press is a type of forming or cutting tool that is particularly susceptible to having its “machine guard” safety devices removed in order to increase productivity.
A machine guard in general refers to a safety device that physically prohibits workers from placing their bodies or body parts in proximity to parts of a tool that may cause injury due to how they function. A hand-held circular saw, for example, may be designed and manufactured with a physical guard that prevents putting fingers near the cutting blade, or a punch press may be designed with two separate activating switches that require the user to have both hands away from the cutting die in order to activate the machine.
Production speed on a power press can be significantly increased by removing its machine guards, so this particular exception to the workers’ comp rule was placed in the law for situations in which an employer or another employee has removed or failed to install the machine guard safety devices on such a piece of equipment.
Legal Complexities Related to Removed Safety Devices
Reading into the details of what courts have held to fall — or not fall — under the definition of “power press” equipment makes it clear why it is necessary to have an experienced personal injury attorney review the facts and details of an injury incident involving workplace equipment. Safety device cases brought under the power press exception will often be decided upon in these complex legal technicalities.
View this video that describes the importance of machine guards and other safety equipment in the workplace:
Sacramento Personal Injury Lawyers
My name is Ed Smith, and I’m a Sacramento Personal Injury Attorney. Workplace injuries from removed safety equipment can result in complex insurance claims and legal cases involving the interplay of both workers’ compensation and personal injury liability laws. If you or a member of your family has been injured in a workplace accident that appeared to involve missing or inadequate safety equipment, please contact us at (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400 for free and friendly advice. You can also reach us through our online contact form.
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