This machine automation case involves an equipment repair worker who was seriously injured while performing tests and maintenance on a piece of machinery in a factory that made packaged foods. The repair worker was employed by an outside company that had been hired by the factory to perform repair and maintenance services on its equipment on a contract basis. The Plaintiff had been on-site for several days, and had been tasked with repairing a packaging machine that sealed items in plastic wrappers. On the day of the accident, the Plaintiff was performing work on the machine, and was using his fingers to make adjustments in the spacing of a few of the machine’s rollers. This was the procedure that the technician had been taught to use during training provided by his company. At some point, his fingers became trapped in the machine and were pulled through a pinch point between two rollers, instantly severing two of the fingers on his left hand while seriously injuring the others. It was later discovered that crucial safety features had been deactivated before the Plaintiff began working on the machine. Plaintiff retained an expert of equipment appraisal for the issue.
Question(s) For Expert Witness
- 1. Do you have familiarity with the subject matter described above?
- 2. Do you routinely train workers like the one described above?
- 3. Are you able to speak to the safety protocols that could have been in place to prevent such an outcome?
Expert Witness Response
In my 20+ years as a forensic engineer, I have investigated a number of cases such as this, involving pinch points, guarding, failure to warn and failure to train. I recently had a similar case involving pinch points and maintenance in a plastics plant. While my job as a forensic engineer does not routinely involve training, I have done a great deal of operator training as well as critique of training in regard to various ANSI standards involving construction and factory equipment. I sit on committees establishing the standards for the training I have done and critiqued, and my recommendations have affected industry safety training and best practices for years. Fortunately, I have never experienced an accident of this nature, but I have had ‘close calls’ where I have stopped operators from making mistakes that could have potentially resulted in accidents. I have worked as a designer of automation machinery at several companies. In all cases, safety of operation and safety while doing maintenance were of a major concern. I have assisted in the actual installation of automation equipment and earlier in my career, and trained people in its use. I have assisted in the writing of training manuals for construction equipment. It appears that there was a dual issue here – on the one hand, the missing safety features are a definitive flaw in the way this factory had configured/was using this particular piece of equipment. On the other hand, the fact that this Plaintiff was using his bare fingers to perform these repairs, allegedly in accordance with the training he received, is highly inadvisable.