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Washington Potato Company fined $99.000 after worker hurt

Working in and around hazardous machinery and equipment requires "lockout/tagout" safety procedures to prevent the machinery from starting or moving during service and maintenance.

The Washington Department of Labor and Industries investigation says a lack of training and proper safety devices left workers in a Pasco dried foods company scrambling to shut off a conveyor system last September after a worker became caught in the machinery, a Department of Labor & Industries investigation has found.

This week, L&I cited Washington Potato Company for 12 serious safety violations and three repeat serious violations with a $99,000 penalty. The investigation found problems with the company’s safety programs involving confined work spaces and with its lockout/tagout program, a term that refers to a system of shutting down machinery to prevent accidental start up.

“Every year, workers across the state are injured or killed while working in confined spaces or when machinery is unexpectedly activated,” said Michael Silverstein, assistant director, L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health. “It is up to employers to assess the hazards at work, whether that work is in confined space or involves machinery, and take the necessary steps to protect their workers.”

On Sept. 30, 2010, a worker cleaning machinery entered an enclosed portion of a conveyor system used to dehydrate vegetables. The conveyor was still in motion and the machinery caught his clothing, pulling him in.

Workers tried in vain to find the correct ‘off’ switch for the portion where the worker was trapped, finally shutting down the entire system. But other workers, unaware of the emergency, turned the machinery back on again. Finally, the equipment was left off and workers entered the same confined space, placing themselves at risk, to dismantle a chain drive and remove the injured worker, who had suffered a puncture wound to his chest.

L&I found three violations of the lockout/tagout rules, in that Washington Potato:

  • Did not ensure lockout/tagout devices were applied to isolate the conveyor section involved in the accident so it could be shut off.
  • Did not have lockout/tagout procedures for the sanitation crew working on a conveyor/drier.
  • Had not trained all workers on changes to its existing lockout/tagout program.

Because the company had been cited for similar issues in the past, all three serious violations were considered repeats, and carried increased fines with them.

L&I also cited the company for an additional 12 serious violations for failing to follow the safety requirements that regulate work in permit-required confined space, which is a hazardous workspace that has limited access and is difficult to exit.

These additional requirements included ensuring employees are trained to work in confined space, controlling who enters the area, and making sure that a rescue is not only available, but that rescuers are trained and have the proper equipment to perform a confined space rescue.

The company has 15 working days to appeal the citation.