Boeing, Lockheed Venture Violated Safety Standard at Launch Site

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By Lars-Eric Hedberg

A joint venture between Boeing Defense and Lockheed Martin Space Systems failed to provide machine guarding for a launchpad component at a space complex, an administrative law judge ruled ( Sec’y of Labor v. United Launch All., LLC , OSHRCJ, No. 15-2237, 4/12/17 ).

An employee of United Launch Alliance, LLC was testing a capture piston at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station when he lost two fingers. The capture pistons are part of the strut captures on the fixed erector pad, which stands up the rocket. The captures are located beneath the launchpad and covered by grating.

“The capture component, which is made up of the clevis, piston, nipples, air hose, and compressed air source, is a machine” under the standard, and therefore the standard applies, Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission Administrative Law Judge Sharon Calhoun ruled in an April 12 decision and order. Calhoun affirmed the serious violation of 29 C.F.R. 1910.212(a)(1) and assessed a $5,000 penalty.

On July 28, 2015, the employee removed a grate section and removed a pin, which serves as a safety mechanism and locks the piston in place. Compressed air extends and retracts the piston through the clevis.

As he was connecting an active air hose to one of the nipples with his right hand, he lost his balance and his left hand slipped off the grate and into the hole, where the moving piston amputated his ring and little fingers.

An Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspector recommended a citation for a serious violation of the standard, which requires machine guarding to protect operators and employees from nip points.

Strut Capture Is a Machine

Calhoun rejected United’s argument that the capture is not a machine because the clevis pin “is merely a connecting device.”

She found that the compressed air is a mechanical power that causes the pistons to extend and retract. Moreover, the clevis pin is not an isolated part but one among a number of “interrelated parts” working as a whole.

Moreover, the lockout/tagout standard was not, as United argued, more applicable. The energization of the piston was the technician’s assigned task, not an “unexpected” occurrence, as the standard in 29 C.F.R. 1910.147(a)(1)(i) addresses.

Lastly, United had knowledge of the condition, because its engineer overseeing the testing was three feet away from the technician when he suffered the injury.

Jackson Lewis, PC, Atlanta, represented United.

The Department of Labor’s Office of the Solicitor, Atlanta, represented the Secretary of Labor.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lars-Eric Hedberg in Washington, D.C. at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Connolly at

For More Information

The decision and order of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission administrative law judge in Secretary of Labor v. United Launch Alliance, LLC is available at

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