The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) oversees a number of topics related to workplace safety. These include issues related to machine accidents, from the necessary signage and safety equipment to the due diligence required by employers to keep workers safe as they use equipment.

In July 2021, OSHA released a request for information (RFI) “on issues related to the mechanical power presses standard.” The RFI is the first step to updating the standard, which may impact the work of personal injury and workers’ compensation attorneys.

What Needs to Change in OSHA Safety Standards?

At issue is a piece of equipment known as the mechanical power press. According to OSHA, “a mechanical power press shears, punches, forms, or assembles metal or other materials by means of tools or dies attached to slides or rams.” Most mechanical power presses have one of two clutch types: a full or part revolution clutch. They tend to be categorized accordingly.

The OSHA web page on mechanical power presses warns that the machines “result in maximum hazards.” This is due to both the ways operators must interact with the machines and the environments in which the machines operate. OSHA warns readers that “careful operation and safety precautions are extremely necessary.”

In addition to these warnings, OSHA has issued a number of guidelines regarding safety surrounding these machines. Despite these precautions, a number of serious workplace accidents have involved mechanical power presses. These incidents include a large number of amputations. Between 2007–2015, approximately 388 injuries, or about 43 per year, involved mechanical power presses.

The last OSHA update to the mechanical power press safety standard was released in 1971. The basis of the previous standard was on the then-existing American National Standards Institute (ANSI) industry consensus standard for mechanical power presses.

There have been several updates to the OSHA standard since 1971. However, the current standard does not cover all types of mechanical power presses currently in use. As a result, companies can implement more lenient safety standards on the non-covered machines without violating OSHA requirements. More lenient safety standards, however, increase the risk to workers.

OSHA’s Request for Information

The request for information from OSHA seeks insight into whether the agency should update its mechanical power press standard. The request includes whether and how closely it should follow the current ANSI standard. OSHA also seeks more information on mechanical power presses in general, including the types available on the market, their uses, and certification. Additionally, OSHA is searching for information on various safety-related topics ranging from safety sensors to employee training. The agency plans to use this information “to determine what action, if any, it may take to reduce regulatory burdens while maintaining worker safety.”

OSHA is accepting comments until October 26, 2021. Submissions must be postmarked or contain other information indicating the date of their submission.

What Attorneys Need to Know About OSHA Safety Standards

The request for information is the first step in a long process, which could result in a range of outcomes. OSHA may decide not to change the current standard. On the other hand, the agency may decide certain edits or even a complete overhaul of the standard are necessary. These decisions will depend in part on the information the agency receives as a response to its RFI.

Nevertheless, the fact that OSHA is seeking information on mechanical power press safety and injuries remains of interest to attorneys. This is particularly intriguing to those that focus on personal injury and workers’ compensation in manufacturing environments.

Amputation risk statistics offer a basis for attorneys to explore what employers know or should’ve known about the risks. In addition to the statistics, OSHA’s interest in addressing safety may pique attorneys’ interest. There’s a gap between the current standard’s requirements and what it is reasonable for employers and machine operators to do. It may be necessary for attorneys to cover that information in cases related to machine power press injuries.

OSHA is currently gathering information related to machine power press safety and accidents. The information OSHA finds could also provide further insight into the risks posed by these machines. It could also help with the general understanding of these risks within various industries. Additionally, the information could provide insight into the available safety mechanisms to address risks and prevent certain types of injuries. Attorneys who work with experts in machine power press assembly, safety, and use can gain further insight into these issues.

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