Safety and OSHA News

Employee crushed to death in garbage compactor

Cal/OSHA is investigating how a grocery store employee was crushed to death in a garbage compactor.

An employee of Grocery Outlet in Redwood City, CA, discovered Mendie Udo in the machine. Firefighters pronounced him dead at the scene. Udo worked as a janitor at the store.

Police say there were no signs of foul play. Cal/OSHA’s full investigation could take up to six months. However, the agency says there’s no doubt he was crushed in the machine. Cal/OSHA says it appears Udo was leaning into the machine before the incident occurred.

Udo, 43, had worked at the store for several years.

OSHA on compactors and machine guards

In 2006, OSHA issued a standard interpretation letter in response to a question it received about machine guards for trash compactors.

The question: Is an interlock required on the side door of a trash compactor, if the side access door is located 55 inches from ground level, and the door is closed and latched while the compactor is cycling?

OSHA responded that interlocks aren’t required. OSHA’s machine guarding standard describes several acceptable methods for machine guarding. It said if the door described in this situation effectively prevented employee access to points-of-operation, the door would be considered sufficient guarding.

Unfortunately, this fatality involving a trash compactor isn’t an isolated incident. Severe injuries and deaths are reported each year because of improper use of compactors.

Here are some safety steps to prevent these injuries:

  • The compactor operating key should never be left in the machine when it’s not attended. Only trained employees should have the compactor keys.
  • Employees should never place hands and arms in the compactor and should never climb into it. Long-handled hooks and rods should be used to clear jams. The compactor should be de-energized using lockout/tagout steps when jams need to be cleared. If something falls into the compactor that needs to be retrieved, the machine should be locked and tagged out before the item is retrieved.
  • All point of operation guards should be kept in place at all times. If maintenance requires a guard to be moved or removed, they should be put back in place before operation resumes.
  • Electrical control box doors should be kept closed and secured at all times.
  • Never hose down the compactor when the power is on. Turn the power switch to the off position and remove the key before washing down the compactor.
  • Always check the interior of the bin before the compactor is started.
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  1. BobTrent says:

    Typical trash compactor design has a magnetic switch that actuates the compactor when the loading door is closed. This is extremely dangerous as the compactor chamber is large enough for several people to be in. There is no emergency shutoff button or door latch release inside the compaction chamber, so if someone is inside the chamber and the machine starts, such as by another person who is not aware of the first one being inside the machine closing the door, only someone outside the chamber can stop the compactor from crushing the one inside to death. No one survives being compacted against already-compacted trash that is in the receiving bin.

    The compactors I have operated had both a large red shutoff button on the control panel near the loading door and a main switch on the building wall near the compactor unit. There was no warning sign advising that the red button be pushed to “off” or the main power switch lever being pulled down to “off” and locked out. No lockout device (padlock) was supplied or even made available.
    The particular compactors I was assigned to use (load and start) were unattended. Trespassers, children, could easily have “messed with” both machines. Power was left on constantly.

  2. Employee crushed to death in garbage compactor – Saddened to learn that the poor man got crushed to death. Our heart goes to his family & loved ones. This is certainly not a first, and sadly, until we don’t make our work cultures safe & pay a lot of attention to implementation of safety standards, it is not going to be a last either.

  3. This type of incident truly isn’t unique. Every year you can read about people injured or killed in trash compactors and each DAY you can read about people who are injured or killed from unexpected moving equipment. The only way to prevent these types of incidents is to ensure you have control when exposed to the hazard. In most cases that are putting your personal lock on the electrical disconnect or other energy isolation device.
    we have to use safe lockout tagout products before doing these type of works, products that are approved by OSHA lockout and tagouts.

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