OSHA imposed $822,000 in fines on a Montgomeryville company following a workplace accident in which three of an employee’s fingers were severed in a steel-bending press. The company has drawn the unwanted attention of OSHA for decades; its employees have sustained over 40 serious injuries since 2000. The case is now before a U.S. District Court judge to decide whether the company owes the two fired employees back pay and whether it will be liable for punitive damages.
Employee Loses Parts of Three Fingers in Factory Accident
A factory worker at the Montgomeryville company lost parts of three fingers when his right hand was caught in a steel-bending press. He claims that the machine malfunctioned, however the owner of the company disputes this.
The employer fired the factory worker and the factory manager, who was also a close relative of the injured employee. He also later fired the injured employee’s colleague who photographed the workplace equipment on behalf of the fired factory worker. The employer claims that he fired the workers for good cause, however a jury found him guilty of retaliation.
A History of Safety Violations
The Montgomeryville company has been the subject of numerous OSHA investigations. The company was inspected or fined in 2000, 2002, 2005, 2008, and 2014. OSHA considers the company to be a “serious violator” because of its failure to comply with safety precautions it previously agreed to in settlements.
OSHA again came after the company in 2016 for the retaliatory firings of employees – the agency has only brought 44 such suits in the last five years. The Director of Safety and Health for the AFL-CIO notes that while OSHA typically seeks to negotiate settlements and adjusts fines for smaller firms, it imposed the maximum penalties in this case because it considers the company to be a flagrant violator.
Upon appeal, an administrative law judge reduced the fines to $210,000. The employer has since paid the fine for the safety violations but still faces possible penalties for the retaliatory firings.
Workers’ Compensation for Caught-in/Between Injuries in Pennsylvania
Caught in/between accidents are one of the leading causes of worker fatalities. Even when not fatal, these accidents can cause serious injuries such as amputations and degloving injuries. Employees must report their injuries to their employer within 120 days to remain eligible for benefits under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, which may include compensation for all reasonable and necessary medical expenses, lost wages, and additional specific loss awards in cases of lost limbs and other types of disfigurement.
Limitations of “No-Fault”
The workers’ compensation system is no fault, meaning that regardless of who is at fault for work accidents, injured employees are entitled to compensation. However, while this is the general rule, there is a noteworthy exception. Workers may not receive compensation for injuries they intentionally cause themselves; therefore, engaging in willful misconduct or horseplay may bar an injured worker from recovering workers’ compensation benefits.