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Power Press Injuries

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Most employers are fully aware of the added dangers workers face when using power press machines. Critical machine guards must be kept in place to help these employees avoid severe injuries to their wrists, hands, and fingers.

Although most California workers’ compensation claims are pursued on a no-fault basis, Labor Code section 4558 was passed to better protect workers handling dangerous power press machines. This legislation clearly reminds employers that if they ever remove machine guards from power presses – injured workers can pursue civil liability damages. Such liability would be in addition to payments made through the workers’ compensation (WC) system – although employers might qualify for certain financial off-sets.

Before addressing how our firm initially evaluates power press injury claims, it’s essential to clearly define the terms “power press” and “machine guards.”

Government Definitions for “Power Press” and Critical Machine Parts

The U. S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) website provides useful definitions for various machines and their parts. A power “press” is defined as a machine that’s mechanically powered and used to punch, form, assemble, or shear metal or other materials by cutting, shaping, or attaching combination dies to slides. The press itself has a non-moving anvil or bed and one or more slides that move both to and from the press bed surface. Each slide is moved in a specific path based on the press frame.

Employers (and courts) consider a machine to be a “power press” if it’s used to form materials using a die while manufacturing other goods or products.

Machine guards are parts of power presses that help workers safely position their hands while completing work assignments. These guards can take different forms – their main function is to act as a barrier to prevent the worker’s fingers and hands from entering what’s called the “point of operation” – where machine parts often make hard contact with one another.

Stated differently, the “point of operation” is where the actual punching, shearing, forming, or assembling of materials takes place.

Key Power Press Issues Often Presented to Courts

Since courts are often asked to determine if a specific machine constitutes a “power press,” it’s useful to note machines that different legal opinions have stated cannot be viewed as these types of machines.

In general, circular saws and most printing presses are not considered “power presses.” Likewise, notching lathes used to cut — but not to create an image — are not power presses. And molding machines with cutting heads that don’t actually determine the shape of formed products do not qualify as “power presses.”

When machine guards are moved, workers have a much greater chance of suffering severe crushing injuries that can result in disfigured body parts and amputations.

Evaluating Injuries as a Basis for Civil Litigation Apart from WC

We begin by examining the evidence and asking ourselves the following questions.

  • Power press machine and guard requirements. We must first determine if the machine used is legally considered a power press – and if it was one whose manufacturer required the use of a machine or “point of operation” guard;
  • If the guard was removed or never installed – did the employer know it was required by the manufacturer? This can often be shown by manufacturer instructions that came with the machine that directly address the purchasing employer – and tell the company it needs to install or properly maintain the guard already installed on the power press machine;
  • Was the plaintiff injured due to a “point of operation” guard that was missing or which the employer never installed properly per the manufacturer instructions? If a worker’s hands have been seriously damaged and the guard is missing – that generally indicates that the guard was needed at the point of operation;
  • Did the employer remove the point of operation guard – or otherwise make it unavailable for ready use by the injured employee? Far too often, disreputable employers will remove a guard because they know it’s presence often slows down the work pace. This intentional negligence is never tolerated by courts – even if the guard is still in sight – but moved to a position where the worker cannot gain any level of safety protection from it;
  • Actual employer instructions to remove the “point of operation” guard must be shown. This evidence must also prove that the employer knew that removing the machine guard could increase the worker’s risk of incurring serious harm – or even death. The specific instructions provided by the manufacturer are critical pieces of evidence. The plaintiff’s attorney may need to discover which supervisor or agent of the employer ordered this type of machine guard removal while preparing the case for negotiations or trial;
  • Can it be clearly proven to a judge or jury that the plaintiff’s injury was directly caused by the machine guard’s absence – or a decision to move that guard into a position where it could not protect the worker? This standard is addressed in California Labor Code Section 4558(b).
Presence or Absence of Point of Operation Guards

In these cases, lawyers for the plaintiffs and defendants often debate whether a specific device can be properly considered a “point of operation” guard. The case of Bingham v. CTS (1991) 231 Cal. App. 3d 56 provides a thorough review of the proper standards for determining whether a safety mechanism is this type of operation guard. When serious disagreements develop regarding these issues in cases – courts always remind the litigants that Labor Code Section 4558 was intentionally passed to protect workers against risky employer decisions that can directly cause devastating injuries.

In other words, when deciding cases, the courts will usually evaluate all the facts in the light most favorable to a severely injured worker who was required to accept too much risk in performing his or her assigned duties.

Extremely Clear and Precise Jury Instructions Are Important

These cases always require very precise and sophisticated jury instructions since properly defining various terms can play a key role in determining who may win or lose.  Of course, the injured party can always proceed with his or her workers’ compensation case, separate and apart from pursuing separate civil litigation damages.

Sacramento Personal Injury Lawyer 

I’m Ed Smith, a Sacramento personal injury lawyer with over three decades of experience. If you or someone you love has been seriously injured or has passed away due to this type of injury, please call me at 916.921.6400 for free, friendly advice.

We are members of the National Association of Distinguished Counsel and the Million Dollar Advocates Forum.

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Editor’s Note: This page has been updated for accuracy and relevancy [cha 4.20.20]

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Photo by Pop & Zebra on Unsplash