Employment Injuries: Power Press Exception
Gonzalez v. Seal Methods, Inc., (Second District, January 24, 2014) 223 Cal.App.4th 405,166 Cal.Rptr.3d 895, 14 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 893, 2014 Daily Journal D.A.R. 985
A woman who was severely injured while loading material onto a die in a power press filed suit against her employer under Labor Code § 4558, which provides an exception to the workers’ compensation exclusive remedy rule. The section allows an employee to “bring an action at law for damages against the employer where the employee’s injury or death is proximately caused by the employer’s knowing removal of, or knowing failure to install, a point of operation guard on a power press, and this removal or failure to install is specifically authorized by the employer under conditions known by the employer to create a probability of serious injury or death.”
The employer moved for summary judgment, contending that the point of operation guard specified by the manufacturer of the press—a two-hand activator system—was properly installed and activated, and the manufacturer had not specified or required any other point of operation guard. The plaintiff opposed the motion, contending that the operation manual for the press required the use of safety blocks, which are small wooden or metal blocks placed in the point of operation to physically prevent the machine from striking whenever the operator’s hands are in the point of operation.
The trial court granted summary judgment, and the court of appeal affirmed, holding that the safety blocks did not qualify as a point of operation guard within the language of the statute:
Section 4558 does not define “point of operation guard,” but the language of the statute leads us to conclude that a point of operation guard does not include an unattached device, such as a safety block, that the worker moves into and out of the point of operation. The first indication that a safety block is not a point of operation guard is found in the statute’s definition of “Failure to install.” The statute defines that phrase as “omitting to attach a point of operation guard either provided or required by the manufacturer, when the attachment is required by the manufacturer and made known by him or her to the employer at the time of acquisition, installation, or manufacturer-required modification of the power press.” (§ 4558, subd. (a)(2).) We infer from this definition that a point of operation guard is a device capable of being permanently attached to the power press.
Although we acknowledge that a safety block could be “attached” to the Press by means of a chain or other device, another provision of the statute prevents us from concluding that a safety block that must be moved into and out of the point of operation by the worker was intended by the Legislature to be included as a point of operation guard.2 The statute defines “Removal” as “physical removal of a point of operation guard which is either installed by the manufacturer or installed by the employer pursuant to the requirements or instructions of the manufacturer.” (§ 4558, subd. (a)(5).) The kind of safety block at issue here is not a device or guard that is installed by the manufacturer or the employer and thus subject to “removal” by the employer as contemplated by the statute.
While it is true that, in effect, a safety block is a “low-tech equivalent” to a light curtain, that does not mean that a safety block is the kind of point of operation guard contemplated by section 4558. The Legislature could have drafted the exception to apply when the worker’s injury was proximately caused by the employer’s failure to follow, or direction to the worker not to follow, the manufacturer’s communicated safety directives. But it did not do so. We cannot ignore the language the Legislature actually used, which limits the exception to instances in which the worker’s injury was proximately caused by the employer’s failure to install or its removal of a point of operation guard.