Many equipment and machinery manufacturers believe that they have met their legal duty to provide a safe machine simply by providing guards for potentially dangerous areas on the equipment. However, simple guards are all too often ineffective fixes to hazardous problems.
What these manufacturers fail to realize is that there are a number of reasons why guards on equipment are removed. Sometimes a guard is removed in order to troubleshoot or evaluate the equipment. At other times guards are removed for minor repairs. Many guards are removed for cleaning and sanitation purposes. And, occasionally, guards are removed because they have become damaged. Once removed, the guards are not always reinstalled.
With the guards removed, devastating injuries increase. A common fix helps prevent such tragic results. Manufacturers need only design equipment and machinery so that it will not work with removed guards. This is referred to as interlocking a guard.
The concept of interlocking guards actually goes back to as early as 1868 when the first patent was filed for an interlock guard on a filling bottle machine! Since that time, safety literature and numerous mechanical engineering publications have recommended interlocking guards to prevent machines from operating unless the guard is in place.
Even safety organizations such as the National Safety Council recommend that machinery be provided with fail safe interlocks so that the machine cannot be started when it is being loaded or unloaded or being worked on. And, more than 45 years ago, the U.S. Department of Labor recommended interlocking machines to prevent the equipment from being operated or turned on when the guard is opened or removed from the machine.
European countries have been interlocking guards on machines as standard practice for decades based in part due to strict European safety standards mandating the interlocking of machine guards.
A case handled by Rick Jurewicz of our firm illustrates the point for interlocking guards. Two manufacturers were involved in the design of a combination filler and canned seamer machine. The part of the machine, which provided the mechanical drive for both pieces of equipment, had a sheet metal guard that covered this hazardous moving part. After having been in use for 10 years by the initial purchaser, the filler/canning machines were decommissioned and disassembled. This included removing the driveshaft guard from the machines. Eventually the equipment was resold to our client’s employer. However, the guard was never provided in the resale. The employer set up the machine and operated it without knowing that a guard existed for the driveshaft. As our client was reaching over to hand a tool to a co-worker, his lab coat became caught in the driveshaft causing numerous fractures to his arm. Our investigation and research disclosed that the manufacturers of both the canning and filling machines had provided interlocks for covers, guards and access doors on other parts of their machines but did not do so for the driveshaft. We established that because the equipment manufacturers regarded the driveshaft guard as removable, safety literature and sound safety design required that the driveshaft guard should have been interlocked. Despite another law firm’s rejection of this third-party case, we proceeded and were able to obtain a substantial, confidential recovery for our client.
If you have any questions regarding an on-the-job injury or death, or whether there is a potential third-party claim, do not hesitate to contact Richard M. Jurewicz, Esquire at 215-665-1600 or via email at [email protected].