Two years ago, OSHA issued 24 violations with $822,000 in fines to a small employer after an employee lost three fingers in a machine. On appeal, a judge has significantly reduced the penalty.
Following the Occupational Safety and Health Commission (OSHRC) ruling, Lloyd Industries of Montgomeryville, PA, now owes $209,500 in OSHA fines.
In 2014, a die dropped on a worker’s hand, resulting in amputation of three fingers. OSHA issued 13 willful, 4 serious and 7 other-than-serious violations. Six willful violations were for missing guards on six machines. Three more willful violations were per instance fines for failure to obtain baseline hearing tests for employees.
The reduction in its fine resulted from a combination of vacating some OSHA violations and reducing the categorization of others from willful to serious.
Among the violations thrown out by the OSHRC decision was a General Duty Clause citation for failing to guard a foot pedal on a mechanical press brake. OSHA said the foot pedal could be accidentally actuated, starting the machine unexpectedly.
The foot pedal was located under the frame of the machine and the work table. OSHA said metal around the foot pedal wasn’t close enough to prevent an object from falling on it.
But the OSHRC said OSHA didn’t show the machine could be accidentally started this way. Partially pressing on the foot pedal wouldn’t start the machine. The operator needed to press down fully with their foot. The judge also said OSHA didn’t explain what kind of object could be small enough to fit under the table and still be heavy enough to completely depress the foot pedal.
“Considering how much force was necessary to actuate the foot pedal, as well as its partially guarded location (under the table), [OSHA] failed to show that the hazard of accidental actuation was present,” the judge wrote in the OSHRC ruling.
Conscious decision or carelessness?
Hearing measurement violations were reduced from willful to serious. The OSHRC said OSHA “failed to establish that there was a conscious decision to forego the testing in conscious disregard of the standard as opposed to forgetting to obtain the audiograms because of carelessness.”
While a $612K reduction in an OSHA fine is huge, the remaining $209,500 is still substantial for a small employer like Lloyd with less than 100 employees.
However, the small employer does do work for large clients. Its duct and fire safety products have been used at places including New York’s Chrysler Building, the Philadelphia International Airport, and the New York Yankees’ and Baltimore Ravens’ stadiums.
Lloyd Industries also faced a whistleblower lawsuit from OSHA. As OSHA’s investigation unfolded, another worker who documented other unsafe working conditions at the Lloyd facility, was fired. According to OSHA, Lloyd’s owner became enraged when inspectors visited. The owner allegedly vowed to fire the “rat” who provided the information.
Five days after the company was cited, the injured worker’s grandfather – who was also the plant manager – was fired after he was subpoenaed by OSHA to testify about the incident.
Lloyd’s 2014-15 brush with OSHA wasn’t its first. In 2009 it was fined $140,760 for violations that included failure to provide elements of a hearing conservation program, and record employees injuries and illnesses.
(Secretary of Labor v. Lloyd Industries Inc., OSHRC Doc. Nos. 15-0846, 15-0847, 6/19/17)