Safety Guarding 101

The Legal Ramifications of Machine Guarding Violations


Jason Kerkhof

Calendar icon

November 29, 2023

In industrial settings, ensuring the safety of workers is a paramount concern. Machine guarding serves as a critical safety measure, designed to protect workers from hazardous machinery. However, when companies neglect or overlook the necessity of proper machine guarding, the consequences can be severe, extending far beyond workplace accidents. In fact, such violations can lead to criminal charges against the entities responsible, as history has shown.

Machine guarding violations involve failing to implement necessary safety measures, like shields, barriers, or other protective devices, leading to potential catastrophic injuries or even fatalities. Not only do these violations compromise the well-being of workers, but they can also lead to legal repercussions, resulting in significant fines and, in some cases, criminal charges.


Examples of Machine Guarding Violations Resulting in Criminal Charges

The ABC Polymer Industries Case (2017)

ABC Polymer Industries LLC pleaded guilty to a willful breach of an OSHA standard, causing a worker's death at its Helena, Alabama plant in 2017. The incident involved a worker being pulled into unguarded moving rollers. The company, aware of safety standards, allowed employees to bypass safety guards while operating machinery to cut tangled plastic off the rollers, exposing them to serious risks. This negligence resulted in the tragic and preventable death. They now face criminal charges due to their willful OSHA violations.


The Bumble Bee Foods Case (2012)

In 2012, the Bumble Bee Foods plant in California faced legal action after an employee tragically died in an industrial pressure cooker. The fatality occurred due to the lack of proper machine guarding. The company faced criminal charges for willfully violating safety regulations that led to the worker's death. Bumble Bee Foods was fined millions of dollars and individuals involved faced jail time as the court recognized the negligence and willful disregard for employee safety.


The Concept Sciences Case (2007)

In a separate incident in 2007, Concept Sciences Inc., a chemical manufacturing company, encountered a similar situation. A maintenance employee was pulled into an unguarded machine, resulting in a fatal injury. An investigation revealed the absence of necessary safety guards on the equipment. As a consequence of this severe violation, the company faced criminal charges and hefty fines for negligence leading to the employee's death.


The Donaldson Co. Case (2003)

Another instance highlighting the serious implications of machine guarding violations involved the Donaldson Company. A worker lost his life after being pulled into a machine lacking proper guarding. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) conducted an investigation, which exposed the company's failure to install adequate machine guards. Consequently, the company faced both civil penalties and criminal charges due to the willful neglect of safety protocols.


Legal Consequences and Preventative Measures

The legal repercussions stemming from machine guarding violations underscore the seriousness of ensuring workplace safety. Entities failing to comply with safety standards not only face substantial fines but may also confront criminal charges for their negligence, especially if it results in severe injuries or fatalities.

To prevent such devastating incidents and legal consequences, companies must prioritize and regularly review safety protocols. This involves implementing proper machine guarding, conducting thorough employee training, and consistently assessing and improving safety measures. Furthermore, fostering a culture that values and prioritizes safety within the workplace is crucial for preventing such tragedies.

In conclusion, machine guarding violations are not just infractions that can result in fines; they can lead to severe legal repercussions, including criminal charges. The examples of ABC Polymer Industries, Bumble Bee Foods, Concept Sciences, and the Donaldson Company serve as sobering reminders of the importance of stringent adherence to safety regulations, not just for the well-being of employees but also to avoid potential legal entanglements that can significantly impact companies and individuals involved. Taking proactive steps to ensure proper machine guarding is not just a legal obligation, but amoral responsibility towards safeguarding the workforce.