2020 Environmental Real Estate Issues

A company’s employee, while trying to cut the wraps around a roller in a plastic extruder, was pulled into the rollers and killed.
The company that purchased the extruder originally used it at another facility. The extruder came with a barrier guard electronically linked to a limit switch. The company closed the facility, disassembled the extruder, shipped it to the facility that employed the decedent, and reassembled it. During reassembly, the company failed to install the limit switch. After reinstallation without the switch, the company trained employees on how to cut tangled plastic with the barrier guard raised but with the extruder’s rollers operating at full speed.

Criminal Violation of OSHA Standard
The US Department of Justice announced that the company has pleaded guilty to a charge of willfully violating an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard. According to DOJ’s news release, OSHA requires “moving equipment such as this to be guarded while the machine is energized.”

Punitive Damages
In a separate proceeding, a state court awarded the deceased employee’s spouse $3 million in punitive damages. Injured employees usually must rely on workers’ compensation and cannot recover damages from their employers. However, in the state where the employee was killed, courts can assess punitive damages if an employee’s death is due to a company’s “willful…removal from a machine of a safety guard or safety device…” In this case, the state court said: “The failure to install the manufacturer provided interlocking limit switch was the functional equivalent of removal.”

To see DOJ’s news release https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/alabama-company-pleads-guilty-worker-death-case