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Factory Fatality Claims Fail to Sway 8th Circuit

ST. LOUIS (CN) - The Eighth Circuit upheld a ruling by federal safety regulators that the Loren Cook Company did not violate safety regulations regarding a fatal lathe accident in 2009.

Loren Cook is an industrial manufacturer of air-circulating equipment. The company uses lathes to form and mold medal discs during its manufacturing process. Lathes hold heavily lubricated pieces of metal that rotate rapidly, which allows the lathe operator to shape the metal into individual work pieces.

In May 2009, a Loren Cook lathe operator in Springfield, Ill., was killed when a 12-pound rotating piece of metal broke free from the lathe and struck the operator in the head at a speed between 50 and 70 miles per hour.

Following an investigation into the incident, the U.S. Dept. of Labor imposed a $490,000 fine on Loren Cook for violating a safety regulation requiring barrier guards on certain industrial equipment.

Loren Cook appealed to an administrative law judge, who found that the regulation cited by the agency focused on point-of-contact risks and risks associated with the routine operation of lathes. The judge found the regulation does not contemplate the catastrophic failure of a lathe that would result in a work piece being thrown out of the lathe.

The judge vacated the citation against Loren Cook and Occupational Safety and Health Administration adopted the judge's ruling as its own.

The Secretary of Labor appealed to the Eighth Circuit, which upheld the ruling in an 8-4 decision.

"The guarding devices section 1910.212(a)(1) enumerates-barrier guards, two-hand tripping devices, and electronic safety devices-aim to prevent ingress by the operator into the danger zone while the lathe is running," U.S. Circuit Judge Bobby Shepherd wrote for the majority.

"This supports Loren Cook's limited interpretation of this section. These guarding devices would do little to prevent the hazard for which the Secretary cited Loren Cook: the high-speed ejection of a workpiece nearly 3 feet in diameter and weighing 12 pounds," he said.

Shepherd was joined in his opinion by Chief U.S. Circuit Judge William Jay Riley, and circuit judges Roger Wollman, James Loken, Lavenski Smith, Steven Colloton, Raymond Gruender and Duane Benton.

U.S. Circuit Judge Michael Melloy, wrote a dissenting opinion, on which he was joined by circuit judges Diana Murphy, Kermit Bye and Jane Kelly.

"If the Secretary's interpretation of the regulation were somehow extra-textual or strained, I likely would agree with the majority," Melloy wrote. "As set forth at length above, however, the Secretary's interpretation is not strained.

"The Secretary's interpretation comports with the plain language of the statute, gives effect to the language 'created by,' and interprets the phrase 'such as' according to our normal construction of language setting forth exemplary lists. It does so without confusing the process of textual analysis with the process of examining a pattern of prior interpretations," Melloy said.

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