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Death Due to Machines in Massachusetts’s Workplaces

Last year, a machine helper (not in Massachusetts) was killed after entering a large wire mesh manufacturing machine in order to grab a metal bar that had fallen. He was hit by a part of the machine that fed wire into the welding area. A light curtain that should have automatically switched off the machine had become disabled. If his employers had checked to make sure the machine’s guards were working, as required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), he wouldn’t have been killed.

Recently, OSHA cited the manufacturer for 8 “per-instance” willful violations and 22 serious citations. The willful the failure to guard the machine at issue plus 3 other large wire mesh machines. Several machines were not properly shut down and the employer had not made sure that hazardous energy sources were prevented from harming employees, many of whom were not native English speakers and who worked extremely long shifts of 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. The 22 serious violations included a hodge-podge of dangerous conditions, including broken pallets that presented a trip and fall hazard, electrical outlets left such that they could shock workers, a sink clogged with maggots in standing water.

The penalties proposed for the willful violations totaled $697,700. OSHA has created a Severe Violator Enforcement Program which tries to improve employers that display indifference to their OSHA obligations through repeated or willful violations.

Moreover, the manufacturer was cited for repeat violations for failing to administer a hearing conservation program properly and also cited for safety and health violations such as failing to mark exists and develop an employee program for effective respirators.

In Massachusetts in 2012, 32 workers died. Among these were 7 firefighters who died from work-related cancer and heart disease. The deaths were due in large part to transportation accidents (like car crashes), falls (as in construction work), commercial fishing and workplace violence (death of a police officer.) While worker deaths fluctuate from year to year, any number of deaths due to work-related conditions are particularly tragic when those work-related conditions could have been prevented in the exercise of ordinary care by the employer.

A death on the job is subject to the workers’ compensation system in Massachusetts. In the case of the man who was killed in a machine accident, his family (his statutory dependents) would be able to file for survivors’ benefits. These can continue for many years. The Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act also offers a limited burial payment and the cost of probate filings.

Under the Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act, a surviving spouse that was living with the deceased employee at the time of his/her death is entitled to receive 2/3 of the deceased spouse’s average weekly wage for a period of 250 weeks. This rule applies so long as the surviving spouse doesn’t marry. There are occasions when the spouses were living separately for reasonable cause — as where they are separated because one spouse was killed while traveling during an extended period for work. In those cases, benefits may be ruled appropriate. An extension can be obtained for survivors that are not self-sufficient after 250 weeks.

If you are hurt (or a loved one is killed) at work, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. An experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney can evaluate whether you have a sound claim and fight to make sure that your employer and its insurer follow the rules. Contact us by calling 800-367-0871 or using our online contact form.

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