Otis Elevator Loses LOTO Appeal

A federal appeals court panel ruled 3-0 that OSHA's lockout/tagout standard does apply to a June 2009 incident in which an Otis service technician suffered a hand injury while repairing a freight elevator gate.

OSHA and the Labor Department have won a lockout/tagout enforcement case that was appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit by the cited company, Otis Elevator Company. Decided Aug. 15 by a unanimous three-judge panel, the case of Otis Elevator Company v. Secretary of Labor, et al., No. 13-1194, involved a June 2009 repair job on a freight elevator at a store in Brookfield, Wis. The company sent a service technician to repair a jammed metal gate on the elevator, and the tech ducked under the partially open gate, climbed a ladder to access the top of the elevator, and threw two switches to ensure no one could call the elevator or move the gate electronically. But he didn't follow company procedure of blocking the gate mechanically, according to the court's opinion.

Seeing that one of the chains was loose, he pried it back onto the sprocket, and the gate immediately began to drop. "The mechanic realized that, as a result of the abrupt release of the jam, the gate was about to slam down and break the chain's connecting link. He reacted by grabbing the chain, which 'drug' his hand through the sprocket and chain, resulting in a serious laceration to his finger," it states.

After being cited for a LOTO violation, Otis argued that the OSHA lockout/tagout standard did not apply because the startup of the machine was not "unexpected." An administrative law judge agreed and found for the company, holding additionally that no store employees were in danger of being injured. But the full Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission reinstated the citation, holding that the LOTO standard did apply to the technician's work because the standard's applicability depends on whether there was a potential for the unexpected release of stored energy that could injure the mechanic or others and, as the mechanic testified, he could not predict when the jam would yield.

The commission reduced the penalty in the case to $500.

The appellate panel agreed with the OSHRC ruling and upheld the commission's decision.

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