Automated conveyors have an inherent level of potential danger such that we know – even without being an expert – safe operating conditions are crucial and can make the difference between life and death. It’s not just minding our kids as we wait forever for baggage to find its way to us on the conveyor at the airport.
Cases involving automated conveyors or conveyor belts are serious business when you start to get into the kinds of details that expert witnesses can help you to present in court. In one recent case, an industrial washer-to-dryer was missing protective guardrails. The worker was pulled into the conveyor and carried into a dryer that reached 300 degrees Fahrenheit. The OSHA fine against the company was nearly $3 million.
Experts in automated conveyors examine and explain a range of issues from product design and defect to faulty installation to improper operation to employers wrongfully removing safety equipment, failing to properly train employees, and otherwise ignoring worker complaints. Our default mindset as attorneys, both plaintiff and defendant alike, is that industrial equipment, including conveyor belts, are designed with safety features and that to remove, modify, or otherwise compromise those features can result in liability.
The expert witness in automated conveyors can also help us to understand employee training requirements and industry standards. In another recent case, the safety monitor left while a worker was inside a single screw conveyor, creating a situation where another employee came along and turned on the machine, which dragged the worker to his death. The worker who died had previously tried to bring attention to the plant’s unsafe work conditions, but those complaints had not been addressed. Among his concerns was a missing safety lock feature on the conveyor.
This concept of the lock-out mechanism is one where the expert witness in automated conveyors and conveyor belt operations can help both attorney, jury, and judge alike to get inside the standard operating procedures of companies with solid safety records to understand how machines can be locked while being cleaned, repaired, or installed.
Another interesting case that came up was a conveyor belt for loading coal into export vessels, which allowed coal to fall off the belt during operations. Not only did this example raise questions of proper design and installation for one company against another, it raised environmental issues both as to the water and as to people in the area.
By: Paloma Capanna, Attorney at Law