Bad Company – New Employees and Dangerous Machines

Before they can become productive, new employees have so much to learn:  how to clock in, where the lockers are, meeting the new supervisor, learning the names of all the new co-workers, finding their way around the plant.  These first few days on a new job are an exceptionally busy time.

But, have we forgotten something?  When new employees are put onto a piece of dangerous equipment, they are exposed to risks they are not familiar with or do not understand fully.  This can be a recipe for disaster.

December 5, 2015.  

The first day on the job for Mason Cox was a cold, clear morning with the temperature just above freezing and a slight breeze.   The bright 19 year old man from Gastonia, NC had just graduated from high school and was looking to make a little extra money over the weekend.  Mason’s cousin was employed by John Crawford, the owner of Crawford Tree Service of Belmont, NC.  He suggested that Mason come work for the weekend with Crawford, cutting down some trees in nearby King’s Mountain, and he agreed.

At the job, he was working with John Crawford and two other experienced employees.  Mason’s job was to feed the trimmed branches into the Vermeer BC1500 wood chipper.  Around 12:30 pm, Mr. Crawford and two other workers heard the chipper getting bogged down.  They came over to see what the problem was.  When they arrived, they found Mason.  

He had been dragged into the chipper feet first and was consumed up to about his ribs.  John tried to get the chipper into reverse, but it was jammed.  The other two workers were described by witnesses as running around throwing off their gear like they were being attacked by a hive of bees.  The stress of the incident was so great that John had a heart attack and was brought to the hospital.  Mason was declared dead at the scene.

Mason Cox and the model of chipper that killed him
The machine that killed Mason Cox

Since the young man went into the chipper feet first, it must be assumed that he had gotten on top of the machine to push in some stuck branches.  It only took a few moments of careless thought and Mason became entangled in some branches as they were being sucked into the chipper.  

Clearly, even the most basic initial training would have warned the worker that he was NEVER allowed to get above the feed chute when feeding the chipper because of the danger of being entangled.  

Neal O’Briant of the N.C. Department of Labor has begun investigating the death to see whether any safety and health standards were violated.  

December 15, 2015. 

It was his third day at a new job with Southern Fibers in Miami Gardens, Florida.  An unidentified 30-year old man, we’ll call him Billy, was working on a piece of process machinery used in the production of polyester foam products such as bedspreads and mattresses.  The machine became jammed with product during a run.  Billy stopped the equipment and proceeded to remove the clogged material from inside one of the mechanisms.  

Experienced operators know that when you have to clear a jammed piece of equipment, you must make sure the machine can’t be started up again.  Billy was not informed of this requirement.  While he had his arm inside the machine, someone else started the equipment and within a moment or two, all the skin was torn off Billy’s right hand from the wrist to his fingertips.  

A subsequent inspection by the OSHA concluded that the accident was caused by the failure of Southern Fiber to follow Lockout/Tagout rules which are intended to prevent unexpected startup of equipment during maintenance or repair.  While they were onsite, the inspectors took a look around and found numerous other violations, which netted Southern Fiber a proposed fine of $116,000.  

The director of OSHA’s Fort Lauderdale Area Office, Condell Eastmond, reported that “Southern Fiber knew the dangers that workers faced, yet it made no attempt to correct identified safety hazards … Management has failed its obligation to protect workers.”


New employees need initial training to make them aware of workplace hazards.

Initial training is a very important responsibility of the employer because new employees are often the most vulnerable to the hazards of the workplace.  Lack of familiarity with the equipment and lack of training are a dangerous mixture.  OSHA standards include at least 20 requirements for initial training.  

Having an effective and well-documented initial training program can protect employees from serious injuries and deaths, and can protect the employer from civil penalties amounting to tens of thousands of dollars.