Dangerous / Unsafe Condition in Workplace: Machine Safety Guards

In one year alone, OSHA issued almost 2,400 citations for violations of machine safety guards. Machine safety guards are the ninth most violated of all of the OSHA standards. In this article, we will address questions and standards that our Sacramento Workers Compensation attorneys regularly handle in addressing machine safety guard injuries. We will discuss the types of machines that are required to have safety guards and the general regulations related to workplace safety as it relates to machine safety guards. We will also cover how to report claims related to injuries from machine safety guards for serious & willful penalties as well as how to report an employer that does not install, properly maintain, or remove safety guards. 

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What are the Cal/OSHA regulations specific to the uses of safety guards in the workplace?

Cal/OSHA's list of machines that require safety guards is entitled to be broad, and it lists those machines "having a grinding, shearing, punching, pressing, squeezing, drawing, cutting, rolling, mixing or similar action, in which an employee comes within the danger zone." The list effectively has two parts: one, it must be a machine that operates within that laundry list; and two it must be one in which the employee comes in contact with the danger zone.

Machines that have the characteristics identified above are required to be guarded at the point of operation to prevent and reduce injuries to employees. For example, all foot-operated devices such as treadles, pedals, levers bars, valves, and switches shall be protected from any unintended operation. It often means that it requires a two-point system to start, such as a hand squeeze with a simultaneous foot press. 

Many other machines that cut, punch, shear, bend or perform similar functions must have guards that prevent hands, arms, or other parts of the employee's body from making contact with the dangerous moving parts. 

Some of the most dangerous violations come from situations in which someone has either removed a machine safety guard or has manipulated it in such a way as to be ineffective. This is sometimes done on the premise of speed or ease of use, but when it is done at the risk of injury to the employee, it is illegal.

What are the general regulations related to safety guards on a job site?

California has a catch-all safety regulation that is intended to put the onus on the employer to maintain a safe workplace. In particular, each employer, regardless of industry, is required to appoint someone to manage their injury and illness prevention programs. That person or their agent is responsible to regularly inspect the premises for potential safety hazards, including safety guards. Besides inspecting safety guards, the employer is also required to look for general dangerous conditions on the operation of the machinery.

Are there additional penalties for employers who violate Cal/OSHA machine safety guard orders?

If you suffered serious injuries as a dangerous machine on the job in California, you may be entitled to both the standard workers' compensation benefits and increased penalties based on a serious and willful Cal/OSHA violation. To establish a claim, you would generally need to show that the employer had actual knowledge of a dangerous condition. Given the fact that the employer must regularly inspect, it can be likely can be shown to have known about the hazardous condition.   

In addition to showing actual knowledge of the specific danger of the machine used, it must be shown that the employer knew that the probable consequences of the injury from the machine without a proper guard would be more than small, but could potentially catastrophic, or at least serious. The specific actions of the machine would play a significant role in determining if an injury would likely be serious.   

Finally, the employer must have had a reasonable time to remedy the situation after it knew of the dangerous condition. Given an employer's duty to inspect, and that most companies that operate machines have on-site machinists and repair technicians, this issue can often be established.

Can you report a workplace for violating safety regulations related to dangerous machines without proper guards?

If you are forced to use a machine that should have a proper guard and does not, you should generally consider speaking up and notify someone in charge at the job site. The injuries from these machines are rarely minimal, and you are putting yours and your family's well-being at stake by continuing to use it. If your employer does not remedy the situation, you could consider contacting Cal/OSHA directly and file a complaint about the dangerous condition of the machine.

As Sacramento Workers’ Compensation Attorneys, we are confronted with employees that have suffered serious injuries in the workplace from the operation of machines with either defective, removed, or designed without proper guards. This article only touches on a few of the many regulations that apply to guards on machines on the job site, but it is a general framework of the types of regulations that may apply. If you have been injured as the result of a dangerous machine, please contact one of our Sacramento Workers’ Compensation Attorneys for a free consultation.