product liability, recall

Worker’s serious injury reveals dangerous machinery hazard

When Beasley Allen attorney Kendall Dunson and a referring attorney toured the dry-cleaning factory where their client was seriously injured, they found more than they had bargained. Not only did the employer expose workers to a serious workplace hazard, the company never reported the incident to OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), as required by federal law.

Marcus Williams, 30, was at Paramount Services in Birmingham, Alabama, a dry-cleaning service for large hotels and restaurants pushing clothing and linens down the conveyor belt of a large piece of machinery when Williams’ right arm got caught. He suffered injuries so bad he ended up losing his dominant arm at the elbow.

While investigating the case, Dunson wanted a closer look at the machine that so badly injured Williams. He and the referring attorney toured the facility without Williams. “Sometimes a client doesn’t want to go back to the scene of a horrific accident, and Mr. Williams didn’t want to,” Dunson says.

Dunson took photos of the machine, identifying an opening where the accident likely occurred. But when Dunson later sat down with Williams to review the photos, he learned that his client had been injured in a different place on the machine. But, since the accident occurred, a barrier had been placed at that opening.

“Either that’s one of the worst designs of the machine I’d ever seen in my life or career … or there was some reason the employer took it off or failed to put it on there in the first place,” Dunson recalls. “Which means the entire hazard of that machine was exposed to everyday workers.”

“I’m surprised to find out that this is the only time anyone has been injured on that machine,” he says.

Dunson’s investigation took another turn when he learned Paramount never reported the incident to OSHA. As a result, “OSHA never went out to do an investigation, no interviews were taken, and this employer won’t be fined for their conduct because six months had lapsed,” as is OSHA’s policy, he says.

Since the revelation, Dunson is trying to determine how the law can be changed to hold negligent employers liable for serious on-the-job injuries and deaths. “Because if an employer can get away with what this employer had done, and face no repercussions whatsoever, not a fine or anything, that’s the incentive for employers not to follow the law or to inform OSHA when they are supposed to,” he says. “There should be some penalty for failing to inform OSHA when it’s required to do so.”

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