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Steel Fabricator Wins Appeal in OSHA Lock-out/Tag-out Violations

A Texas-based steel fabricator, Ward Vessel & Exchanger, successfully appealed three Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) lock-out/tag-out (LOTO) citations and one recording citation that stemmed from a January 2021 incident in which an employee got his fingers stuck in a plate rolling machine, resulting in an amputation.
The incident occurred during regular operations between shifts when an employee attempted to clean the machine rollers. When he could not lower the rollers, a supervisor attempted to troubleshoot. The machine remained energized for troubleshooting. However, the employee continued to clean the rollers while the supervisor lowered the rollers into position. As a result, the rollers pinched the employee’s fingers, resulting in amputation.

The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held that the LOTO standard did not apply to this task. 

  • The ALJ said the LOTO standard did not apply to the plate rolling machine because a single cord and plug controlled it. 
  • The ALJ affirmed that the incident resulted from the company’s deviation from its own policy and operational protocol rather than from a violation of OSHA standards.
  • The ALJ ruled that the company adhered to OSHA recording timelines by reporting the amputation within 24 hours of the medical confirmation that the injury qualified as an amputation, even though the recording happened three days after the actual workplace event.  

One practical takeaway from this case is that cleaning, maintenance, and troubleshooting should be clearly separated with no overlap to minimize the potential for injury. Also, when evaluating whether to contest an OSHA citation, employers should consider, as a threshold question, whether the cited standard even applies to the task being performed. 

To learn more on this topic, hear Manesh Rath and Taylor Johnson discuss the case in the OSHA 30/30 webinar and podcast “Judge Vacates Lockout Tagout Citation, Finding No Employee Exposure.” To subscribe to the OSHA 30/30, click here and check the Occupational Safety and Health box.