By Gregory Hale
Not one organization around the globe can have a safety forum, talk or discussion without a word from the lawyers and Rockwell’s Safety Forum was no different as two attorneys discussed the legal ramifications of the importance of safety in the manufacturing automation sector across the world.

“We sell products into a very dangerous environment,” said Gary Ballesteros, vice president of law at Rockwell Automation during his talk at the Rockwell Safety Forum last Tuesday in Philadelphia. “Hazards and issues are introduced whenever man meets the machine.”

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At issue is how everyone in the supply chain needs to remain smart and on top of their game when it comes to safety because at some point if and when there is an accident, more than one company will face a lawsuit.

Because of workers compensation laws, the employer often remains protected against suit, so that means other companies end up front and center.

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“If something went wrong, who gets sued?” Ballesteros asked. “They can’t sue the employer, so they can end up suing the machine builder.”

Ballesteros listed five priorities to help ward off legal action:
• Identify and eliminate the hazard
• Apply safeguarding
• Put up warning signs
• Training
• Prescribe personal protection

Whether a company manufactures product in the United States or elsewhere in the world, there are a wide ranging amount of laws lawyers need to work with.

In the U.S., there are some legal issues to look at:
1. Negligence: Did you fail to act as a reasonable person or organization would act under the same or similar circumstances.
2. Strict Liability: The sole issue is whether a person suffered injury by a product that was defective in design or manufacture or was unreasonably dangerous when it left the manufacturer’s control.
3. Breach of Warranty: The focus is on whether the product conformed to representations made by the seller in writing, verbally, or implied by law.

Europe is just as crazy as the U.S. is when it comes to the legal system.

There are 27 countries, with 23 official languages covering 503 million people with an incomplete harmonization of product liability/product safety law, said Richard Matthews, partner and head of product liability at Eversheds LLP, in the UK.

“There is a huge difference in the way member states enforce,” Matthews said.

One of the differences in applying safety laws between the two continents is how laws end up enforced, he said.

National laws will sit alongside safety directives and EU directives, Matthews said.

“In the U.S. enforcement is by litigation, but in Europe enforcement is by regulation,” Matthews said.

In the end the two attorneys said the main issue to prevent legal action is to remain smart, have a pland and stick to it, remain on top of your game at all times and be willing to communicate.

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