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California man loses both legs in preventable workplace accident

Have you ever dropped something important down the drain of your kitchen sink and were hesitant about sticking your hand in to retrieve it? Most kitchen sinks are connected to a garbage disposal, and the idea of accidentally mangling your hand is a gruesome thought. Because of the risks, it is imperative to unplug the garbage disposal and make sure that there is no stored energy that could start the machine while you have your hand in the drain.

The same principle applies to much larger equipment in many factories. If workers must physically enter a machine (or stick limbs into it) to clean or service it, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires that the equipment be de-energized and locked out. The machine must be inoperable (and unable to be started by anyone) until the work is completed and all employees are out of harm's way.

This rule makes perfect sense and is easy to follow, yet companies violate it frequently. When they do, the consequences can be disastrous. According to a recent news article, a California foundry worker lost both legs last August when he was pulled into a machine that was prematurely reenergized.

An employee of the Alhambra Foundry was cleaning and unblocking and industrial air filtration device that included a 38-foot long auger screw. After finishing the work, the man reentered the confined space to retrieve his work light. At the same time, another worker 45 feet away energized the machine. The man's legs were pulled in and trapped and needed to be amputated in order to free him.

Cal/OSHA has imposed fines of more than $283,000, which the company will be required to pay. More importantly, however, a worker lost his legs and had his life permanently changed because basic, common-sense safety procedures were not followed.

Safety rules in the workplace sometimes seem redundant and overly precautious, but they are in place for a reason. Companies that do not ensure compliance are putting their workers at serious risk of injury and death.

Although most workplace injuries are less serious than this one, injured workers are nonetheless entitled to appropriate compensation. To learn more about your rights after a workplace accident, please contact an experienced workers' compensation attorney.

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