One momentary decision in a hazardous workplace forever changed the lives of a worker who suffered grievous injuries and the co-worker whose actions inadvertently led to that injury.

It also led to more than a quarter million dollars in fines against the company that employed them.

How it happened

The August 28, 2017 incident occurred as two employees of Alhambra Foundry Co. in Alhambra, California were cleaning and unjamming a 38-foot long auger screw conveyor at the bottom hopper of an industrial air filtration device without effectively de-energizing or locking out the equipment. One of the workers re-entered the 20-inch square opening after the cleaning was done to retrieve a work light from inside the confined space, when a maintenance worker 45 feet away energized the equipment to perform a test. The moving auger screw pulled the worker into the screw conveyor.

Both his legs had to be amputated in order to free him.

Cal/OSHA’s investigation found that:

• The foundry did not have the permit-required confined space program.
• The screw conveyor was not de-energized and locked out before workers entered the hopper, and accident prevention signs were not placed on the controls.
• The worker re-entering the hopper was not monitored by a confined space attendant.
• Alhambra Foundry lacked specific procedures for de-energizing and locking outthe equipment.

The hazards that led to the incident were not new for the company; it was cited for similar safety violations eight years ago.

Violations and penalties

Cal/OSHA issued eight citations to Alhambra Foundry Co. with proposed penalties totaling $283,390. The eight violations cited included one willful serious accidentrelated, one willful serious, four serious, one willful general and one general in nature. The citation for a willful serious accident-related violation was issued because Alhambra Foundry had been cited eight years prior for failing to take appropriate measures to protect workers performing cleaning and servicing operations.

Confined space dangers

“Sending a worker into a confined space is dangerous, especially inside machinery that can be powered on at any time,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Juliann Sum. “Employers must ensure that machinery and equipment are de-energized and locked out before workers enter the space to perform operations involving cleaning and servicing.”

A confined space is defined as an area that is large enough and so configured that an employee can bodily enter and perform assigned work, has limited or restricted means of entry or exit, and is not designed for continuous employee occupancy. Cal/OSHA has extensive information on lock out / tag out requirements online.