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.