Worker Amputation Leads to Heavy Fine for Pennsylvania Employer Lacking Lockout/Tagout Programs

Oct. 1, 2009
OSHA has cited Emanual Tire of Pennsylvania for alleged workplace safety and health violations, proposing $51,650 in penalties, following an investigation of a worker injury.

OSHA initiated its investigation on March 25 after a worker suffered an amputation during a workplace accident. As a result, the company has been cited for 38 serious violations, with a penalty of $50,750, and three other-than-serious violations, with a $900 penalty.

The serious violations include unguarded machinery, inadequate training, failure to develop energy control (lockout/tagout) and hazard communication programs, obstructed emergency stop buttons, a lack of hand rails on industrial stairs and failure to prohibit workers from riding on a conveyor. A serious citation is issued when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result and the employer knew, or should have known, of the hazard.

“Without proper machine guarding, Emanual Tire workers will continue to be at risk of future workplace accidents,” said Jean Kulp, area director of OSHA’s office in Allentown, Pa. “It is imperative that the company abate all identified hazards as soon as possible.”

The Conshohocken company recycles truck and car tires, and employs 26 workers.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations to comply, request an informal conference with the OSHA area director, or contest the citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Guidance on Risks Related to Lone Workers Offered for Employers

A new guidance from the U.K.’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides useful advice and guidance on how to keep lone workers healthy and safe. It is aimed at anyone who employs or engages lone workers, and may provide valuable information for self-employed people who work alone.

Employers have responsibility for the health, safety and welfare at work of all of their employees. In the U.K., they also are responsible for the health and safety of those affected by work activities; for example, any self-employed people they engage and visitors such as contractors. These responsibilities cannot be transferred to any other person, including those people who work alone.

It is the employer’s duty to assess risks to lone workers and take steps to avoid or control risks where necessary, while employees have a responsibility to take reasonable care of themselves and other people affected by their work activities and to co-operate with their employers in meeting their legal obligations.

HSE defines lone workers as employees who work by themselves without close or direct supervision. Some examples include:

  • People working alone in a location, such as in small workshops, gas stations, mall kiosks or small retail shops.
  • People who work from home.
  • People working separately from others, such as in isolated areas in factories, warehouses and some research and training establishments.
  • People working outside of “normal” business hours, such as cleaning and security personnel or production and maintenance crews.
  • Mobile workers working away from the office.
  • Workers involved in construction, plant installation, maintenance and cleaning work, electrical repairs, elevator repairs, painting and decorating or vehicle recovery.
  • Agricultural and forestry workers.
  • Service workers such as property managers, postal workers, social workers, maids or home health workers, doctors, district nurses, pest control workers, drivers, engineers, architects, real estate agents, sales representatives and similar professionals.

Assessing and Controlling Risks

Employers need to investigate the potential hazards faced by lone workers and assess the risks involved both to the lone worker and to any person who may be affected by their work. Employers should ensure that measures are in place to control or avoid such risks.

HSE suggests that employers of lone workers involve employees or their representatives when undertaking the required risk assessment process. Employers also are asked to take steps to check that control measures are in place. Some examples of control measures include instruction, training, supervision and issuing protective equipment.

Employers should review risk assessments annually or, as few workplaces stay the same, when there has been a significant change in work practices. When a risk assessment shows it is not possible for the work to be conducted safely by a lone worker, employers should address that risk by making arrangements to provide help or back-up. If a lone worker is working at another employer’s workplace, that employer should inform the lone worker’s employer of any risks and the required control measures.

Risk assessment should help employers decide on the right level of supervision. There are some high-risk activities where at least one other person may need to be present. Examples provided by HSE include:

  • In a high-risk confined space, where a supervisor may need to be present, along with someone dedicated to the rescue role.
  • People working at or near exposed live electricity conductors, or other electrical work where at least two people are required.

Establishing a healthy and safe working environment for lone workers can be different from organizing the health and safety of other employees. Employers need to know the law and standards that apply to their work activities, and then assess whether they can meet those legal obligations for people working alone.

Lone workers face particular problems. For example, can the risks of the job be adequately controlled by one person? Lone workers should not be put at more risk than other employees. In order to achieve this, extra risk control measures may be necessary. Precautions should take account of normal work and foreseeable emergencies, such as fire, equipment failure, illness and accidents. Employers should identify situations where people work alone and ask questions such as:

  • Does the workplace present a special risk to the lone worker?
  • Is there a safe way in and out for one person?
  • Can any necessary temporary access equipment, such as portable ladders or scaffolding, be safely handled by one person?
  • Can all the machinery and goods involved in the workplace be safely handled by one person?
  • Are there any chemicals or hazardous substances being used that may pose a risk to the worker?
  • Does the work involve lifting objects too large for one person?
  • Is more than one person needed to operate essential controls for the safe running of equipment or workplace transport?
  • Is there a risk of violence?
  • Are young, pregnant or disabled workers particularly at risk if they work alone?
  • Are there any other reasons why the individual (for example, a trainee) may be more vulnerable than others?
  • If the lone worker’s first language is not English, are suitable arrangements in place to ensure clear communication, especially in an emergency?

Training particularly is important where there is limited supervision to control, guide and help in situations of uncertainty. Training may be critical to avoid people panicking in unusual situations. Lone workers need to be sufficiently experienced and fully understand the risks and precautions. Employers should set the limits to what can and cannot be done while working alone. They should ensure employees are competent to deal with circumstances that are new, unusual or beyond the scope of training.

The level of supervision required is a management decision, which should be based on the findings of a risk assessment: the higher the risk, the greater the level of supervision that is required. It should not be left to individual workers to decide whether they require assistance.

HSE suggests putting procedures in place to monitor lone workers to help keep them healthy and safe. These may include:

  • Supervisors periodically visiting and observing people working alone.
  • Regular contact between the lone worker and supervisor, using cellular phones, telephones, radios or e-mail.
  • Automatic warning devices, which operate if specific signals are not received from the lone worker.
  • Other devices designed to raise the alarm in an emergency, which can be operated manually or automatically by the absence of activity.
  • Checks to ensure a lone worker has returned to their base or home once their task is completed.

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