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How 11th Circuit ruling could impact workers and employers

Pennsylvania workers and others working around machinery may be subject to OSHA's new lockout/tag-out (LOTO) standard. However, there had been some question as to what the legal definition of machine was under this standard. Specifically, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit was asked to decide which pieces of equipment constituted a machine. The ruling would help determine when all pieces of a machine must be turned off if only one part is being serviced.

Generally speaking, the LOTO standard requires a machine to be de-energized if it could release enough stored energy to hurt a worker who was servicing it. However, the rule never actually defined what a machine was under the standard. The 11th Circuit found that two or more pieces of equipment are a machine if they do not perform useful work when isolated. However, the ruling did not specify what useful work meant.

For some employers, the impact of the ruling may have wide ranging implications for their businesses. This is because they may have to shut machines down, which could take extra time and cost companies money. In some cases, a company could lose millions of dollars in lost production. Employers are encouraged to take reasonable steps to mitigate possible danger to workers and thoroughly document the reasons why machines weren't de-energized when being serviced.

If a worker is hurt on the job, it could have significant implications for both workers and employers. Employers may face fines and other OSHA penalties. Workers may be entitled to file for workers' compensation benefits. Such benefits may make it possible to pay medical bills and make up for lost earnings while recovering. In some cases, these benefits may be offered on a permanent basis if a worker is unable to return to work in the future.

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Media, PA 19063

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