Injuries and Illness

Long Hair, Loose Clothing, and Hazardous Equipment: A Deadly Combination

Two recent fatalities highlight the risk of entanglements involving hazardous equipment.

No one knows for certain why Michael Smith was trying to go up the down escalator at the Powell Street BART station in San Francisco on April 19, just as no one knows what caused him to fall. But once his hair and clothing became caught in the escalator, he couldn’t escape.

Emergency responders shut down the escalator, cut Smith free, and performed CPR, but to no avail. He was declared dead at the hospital.

No one was around to respond this quickly on April 13 when Yale University student Michele Dufault was working on her senior project late at night. By the time fellow students found her around 2 a.m., with her long brown hair caught in a lathe, Dufault was already dead—strangled by the pressure that the lathe, pulling her hair and skin taut, had put on her throat

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Although neither Smith nor Dufault were on the job when they died, federal OSHA and Cal/OSHA are conducting investigations.

Federal OSHA is looking into Dufault’s death because university employees also use the machine shop where she died. Cal/OSHA is examining Smith’s death because its Elevator Unit has jurisdiction in the BART station case.

Entanglement Hazards


Entanglement hazards receive the greatest publicity in the agricultural industry, where nearly 4 in 10 injuries are entanglement related. However, employees operating or working around equipment in industrial settings are also at risk.

Machines and equipment can pose an entanglement hazard if they have:

  • Pinch points, where two or more parts move together, and one of them is moving in a circle (pulley and belt systems, including conveyors and the escalator that killed Michael Smith fall into this category).
  • Crush points, where two components move toward each other, as happens in three-point hitches and hydraulic cylinders.
  • Wrap points, created by exposed rotating components (the lathe that killed Michele Dufault falls into this category, as do power take-off shafts, augers, mixer blades, and other rotating equipment).

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Preventing Entanglements

Safeguards that can prevent these kinds of deadly accidents include:

  • Guarding. Moving parts on machinery should be guarded to prevent any part of the worker’s body from contacting the machine’s moving parts.
  • Dress codes. Workers should not wear loose-fitting clothing, chains, or other loose jewelry around equipment that poses an entanglement hazard. Long hair should be tied back to keep it safely out of danger.
  • Safe work practices. Workers should not work alone with potentially entangling machinery. Before performing adjustments or maintenance operations, qualified workers should shut down and lockout equipment.
  • Emergency shutoffs. Workers who work with or around machinery should know where to find and how to operate emergency shutoffs. When a worker becomes entangled, a quick response may save a life.

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