Job Safety Commission to Consider Issues of Employee Exposure and 'Significant Risk' in Machine Guarding Case


Contact: Linda Whitsett

Release 97-5

(202) 606-5398

October 2, 1997





The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission will hear argument on the issue of  whether employers have an obligation to protect employees from injury by guarding machine parts that the employees would not come into contact with in the normal course of their work. In the case to be argued the Secretary of Labor contends that employees could injure their hands under the plungers of electrically powered presses but  the judge found that the potential for employee contact was too `speculative' to warrant the finding of a violation. Oral argument will be held at 10 a.m., October 9, 1997 at the Review Commission's headquarters, 1120 20th St., N.W., Ninth Floor South, Room 965, Washington, D.C.

The parties will debate the following questions: 1) whether the Commission must defer to the Secretary's interpretation of the cited standard; 2) whether the Secretary must show the existence of a significant risk of harm; and 3) whether the Secretary established the existence of a hazard and employee exposure to a hazard under the generally worded standard. Commission precedent on these questions and Supreme Court  precedent, concerning when the Commission must defer to the Secretary's interpretation of OSHA standards will be discussed. E.g., Martin v. OSHRC (CF&I Steel Corp.), 499 U.S. 144 (1991).

Commission Chairman Stuart E. Weisberg and Commissioner Daniel Guttman will hear the arguments. The case involves  Fabricated Metal Products, Inc. (FMP), a maker of small metal parts such as fuel filters and copper cones for ammunition.  OSHA inspected FMP's Naugatuck, Connecticut  worksite in 1993 and cited the company for violations of  machine guarding requirements for its electrically powered presses.   FMP contested the citations. Following a hearing, a Review Commission judge vacated the charges at issue which concern the machines' points of operation and rotating horizontal shafts.  The Secretary sought review of the judge's decision and FMP requested oral argument.

Arguments will be presented by counsel for the Secretary of Labor and counsel for FMP. OSHRC is an independent federal agency created to issue decisions in disputes arising from inspections conducted by OSHA which is part of the U.S. Department of Labor. OSHRC has two adjudication levels.  Administrative Law Judges hear cases and issue decisions that may be reviewed by three presidentially- appointed Commissioners. The Commission generally holds oral arguments only in cases that present significant, complex or novel legal issues.