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A change in processes for railcar buildings did not create a struck-by hazard, held an administrative law judge Monday in a final decision of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
In Secretary of Labor v. FreightCar America Inc., the administrative judge vacated a proposed penalty of more than $12,000 after finding that the U.S. Secretary of Labor failed to show the company’s actions led to its workers’ substantial injuries.
On Feb. 28, 2018, two workers at a railcar manufacturing facility in Cherokee, Alabama, commonly referred to as the “Shoals facility,” were injured when one of the end panels of a car they were assembling fell on them, causing one to fracture his knee and sustain a severe laceration above the knee, and the other to sustained broken ribs and a broken leg.
A team of four men assembled railcars, with crew members welding together the 400- to 500-pound panels being held up by cranes. Workers had used “fit up bolts” to attach the bottoms of the panels to the floor to aid in aligning panels for welding, but shortly before the accident, the engineer instructed workers to stop using fit up bolts. The bolts did not provide structural support.
On the day of the incident, the workers had trouble aligning the panels, and after the crane had been unhooked, one removed pins from the corner to help with the aligning, causing it to fall. The day after the accident the company amended the rules to require that all work must be completed before a crane was unhooked.
An Occupational Safety and Health Administration compliance officer investigated the incident, recommending that FreightCar America Inc. — the corporate entity he believed was the owner and operator of the facility and employer of the injured workers — be cited for a serious violation of the general duty clause with a proposed penalty of $12,934. The company appealed, first arguing that FreightCar Alabama LLC — not FreightCar America — owned and operated the facility, and that it had not created a struck-by hazard.
An administrative law judge of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission held that the inspector cited the correct company, but vacated the citation. While the administrative judge said it was “clear a struck-by hazard existed that caused serious physical harm to two employees at the Shoals facility,” the alleged violation described in the citation did not describe the condition that cause the workers’ serious harm.
The administrative judge held that the U.S. Secretary of Labor failed to show that the fit up bolts provided support to the end walls, and therefore failed to show that by eliminating the use of the bolts that a hazard was created since the record does not establish the absence of fit up bolts exposed employees to struck-by hazards. As a result, the judge vacated the citation.
The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission on Monday affirmed an administrative law judge’s decision not to vacate the citations issued to a company based on an inspection by a U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspector whose credential card had expired.