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Industrial Accidents

The author, a licensed professional engineer, is an expert witness in factory accident and other industrial accident and product liability cases.

Factory machines require people at approximately three levels: machine operators, machine maintenance technicians, and machine designers. Each is involved with safety in a different way.

Machine operators have just enough competence and training to do repetitive work without depending on knowledge, skill, and care to protect themselves. Safety devices and safe overall design of machines are intended to protect operators from accidents. Among these devices are lockout and tagout systems (LOTO) to prevent accidents to operators who must enter spaces which would be dangerous when a machine is operating.

A frequent cause of accidents to operators is doing something beyond their instructions, intending to do good, such as clearing a jam, instead of notifying a supervisor. Another common cause is interfering with safety arrangements intending to ease their work or to increase their output.

Machine maintenance technicians must enter dangerous spaces in order to do their work. They depend on their knowledge, skill, and care for their safety. Only to a degree can they depend on lockout and tagout to reduce their risk.

Above all these people are supervisors who must both train and supervise them. A classic example of the need for close supervision is the skilled machinist who fails to wear his safety glasses despite his knowledge and skill.

Machine designers - engineers - must design safety into machines. In a way there is a contest between operators and engineers, the engineers anticipating ways in which the operators can create accidents by negligence or disobedience and designing safety systems to prevent such accidents. There are textbooks, OSHA regulations, commercial products, and the engineer's own imagination and ingenuity to help him. Furthermore there is economic constraint; the design must not have a prohibitive cost. ('An engineer is one who can do for one dollar what any darn fool can do for two.')

In current worker's compensation law for accidents, regardless of cause, employers are exempt from lawsuits and injured employees automatically receive wages and medical expense. This is "no-fault insurance." However if the accident is attributable to a dangerous defect in a machine, the machine's manufacturer can be sued for product liability. This practice imposes a severe discipline on machine designers and installers.

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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