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State ex rel. Ohio Paperboard v. Industrial Commission of Ohio

Supreme Court of Ohio

December 28, 2017

The State ex rel. Ohio Paperboard, Appellant,
v.
Industrial Commission of Ohio, et al., Appellees.

          Submitted September 26, 2017

         Appeal from the Court of Appeals for Franklin County, No. 15AP-871, 2016-Ohio-7005.

          Ice Miller, L.L.P., and Corey Crognale, for appellant.

          Michael DeWine, Attorney General, and John R. Smart, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee Industrial Commission.

          Larrimer & Larrimer, and Thomas L. Reitz, for appellee John S. Ruckman.

          PER CURIAM.

         {¶ 1} Appellant, Ohio Paperboard ("OP"), challenges appellee Industrial Commission's award of additional compensation for violation of a specific safety requirement ("VSSR"). The commission determined that OP violated Ohio Adm.Code 4123:1-5-05(C)(2), (C)(4), and (D)(1), which require guards and emergency-shut-off buttons on power-driven conveyors, and that the violations were the proximate cause of the injuries to appellee John S. Ruckman.

         {¶ 2} For the reasons that follow, we reverse the judgment of the court of appeals and issue a writ of mandamus ordering the commission to vacate its order and to issue a new order denying the application for an additional award for VSSR.

         {¶ 3} OP operates a recycled-paper mill. The company receives bales of recycled paper bound with wire, each bale weighing approximately 900 pounds. The bales are loaded onto a conveyor that transports them into a pulper, where they are shredded. As the bales are transported to the pulper, an overhead saw cuts the bailing wire. Most of the cut wires end up in the pulper, but some get wrapped around the shafts and gears of the conveyor.

         {¶ 4} Routine preventive maintenance is performed on the conveyor for several hours every Monday. The weekly maintenance includes removing pieces of baling wire caught in the conveyor. On the day of the accident, Ruckman and a coworker, Mark Horvath, were assigned to do the maintenance work. First, the conveyor operator, John Smith, who worked inside a control shack, ran the conveyor until all the bales had been transferred to the pulper, then he switched the machine from operational mode to maintenance mode. At that point, Ruckman and Horvath began their maintenance duties. They followed the company's required lock-out/tag-out procedures and shut down the machine. They also removed a guard in order to access and remove wires wrapped around the chains and sprockets.

         {¶ 5} At some point, Horvath left the area to get oil for the conveyor, and Ruckman, in an attempt to remove wires that were stuck underneath a gear, unlocked and activated the conveyor and then reached in to grab the wires. The moving conveyor caught his hand and pulled it into the machine, crushing it. Ruckman was unable to reach the emergency-stop button to stop the machine.

         {¶ 6} Ruckman's workers' compensation claim was allowed for the following conditions: left-hand amputation and replantation, major depressive disorder, and total loss of use of the left hand.

         {¶ 7} He filed an application for an additional award for VSSR, alleging that OP had violated Ohio Adm.Code 4123: 1-5-05(C)(2), (C)(4), and (D)(1), which require guards and emergency-shut-off buttons on power-driven conveyors, and that those violations were the proximate cause of his injuries.

         {¶ 8} Following a hearing, a staff hearing officer concluded that Ruckman's injury was a result of his employer's failure to comply with those three specific safety regulations. The hearing officer rejected OP's argument that Ruckman's injury was caused by his unilateral negligence in failing to follow the safety procedures that his employer required. The hearing ...


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