Enforcement and Inspection, Equipment and Machinery Safety

Cal/OSHA Wants $250,000 Penalty for Willful Failure in Machine Guarding Fatality

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) cited a Santa Ana, California, ceramic materials manufacturer for willful failure to guard machinery after an employee was fatally injured. The agency is seeking more than $250,000 in penalties for the cited violations.

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An employee of Aardvark Clay & Supplies, Inc., was fatally entangled in a clay manufacturing machine called a pug mill. The employer removed safety guards from the industrial mixer, according to Cal/OSHA, and the worker had not received training on the machine before the accident.

Unguarded Pug Mill

Aardvark Clay & Supplies uses industrial pug mills to manufacture and mix clay. During Cal/OSHA’s investigation following the worker’s death, the agency found that all four of the shop’s pug mills had unguarded openings exposing employees to the moving parts. California’s occupational safety and health standards require all mixers to have a cover to prevent employees’ hands from entering the machine during operation.

An employee became caught in the unguarded mixing blades of a pug mill September 20, 2018, when he tried to identify why clay had stopped traveling through the extruder.

“Pug mills have rotating blades that can cause amputations and fatally injure employees,” Cal/OSHA Chief Juliann Sum said in a statement.

“Employers must ensure all machinery and its parts are properly guarded, and employees are effectively trained to prevent tragic accidents like this,” Sum said.

Cal/OSHA Citations

Cal/OSHA cited the company and seeks proposed penalties of $250,160 for five violations, including one willful-serious accident-related, one willful-serious, two serious, and one general. The cited violations included:

  • Willful-serious violation for the employer’s failure to guard machine openings and points of operation; and
  • Serious violations for hazards from the unguarded cutting portion of the clay machine and failure of the employer’s safety program to identify unsafe conditions, implement corrective procedures, and effectively train employees on work-related hazards.

Cal/OSHA’s citation criteria are:

  • Willful violations are cited when the employer is aware of the law and still violates it or is aware of a hazardous condition and takes no reasonable steps to address it;
  • Accident-related violations are cited when the injury, illness, or fatality is caused by the violation; and
  • Serious violations are cited when there is a realistic possibility that death or serious harm could result from the hazard created by the violation.

Employers Must Guard Machinery

Equipment and machines used in many industries—including agriculture, construction, and manufacturing—can be hazardous. Contact with equipment or machinery can result in crushed limbs or extremities, cuts, amputations, and even death. Contact with objects or equipment was among the leading causes of fatal occupational injuries in California from 2013 to 2017. It was the fourth leading cause of on-the-job fatalities in 2017 after transportation incidents; slips, trips, and falls; and workplace violence.

While the operating controls, point of operation, and power transmission device are common to all equipment and machinery, the appropriate guarding can vary significantly. Guards can be adjustable, fixed, interlocked, or self-adjusting, depending on the hazards present and how the machine operates.