OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at https://www.osha.gov.

May 20, 1976

Mrs. Gladys Bourque
154 Orchard Avenue
Manchester, New Hampshire 03103

Dear Mrs. Bourque:

Your letter, addressed to the President, concerning sewing machine guards has been forwarded to this Administration for reply.

I am sorry that the guard on your sewing machine has caused you so much trouble. The guards, when properly designed and attached with lock washers, should become an integral part of your machine and offer the protection for which they were designed with no hinderance in the working condition of the machine. Your problems may have arisen from the burrs that can be found on the end of the guard that you enclosed in your letter. The lower portion of this guard should be so designed that you are not exposed to cuts and scratches which this guard could cause. (see enclosure #1.)

Guards must be placed on sewing machines, as well as other types of machines, whose point of operations and other nip points in and around the machine could cause injuries to the operators. The guarding of these points will effectively reduce the high number of injuries that have been occurring in the work places.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (copy enclosed) was passed because the toll of job-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths had substantially increased prior to its passage. Each year before the Act was passed, thousands of employees were killed and millions suffered disabling injuries and illnesses as a result of their work. Congress felt that this tragic waste of the Nation's human resources and the financial drain of job accidents and illnesses on industry in terms of lost production, wage loss, medical expenses and disability compensation payment justified this law.

Your attention is called to Section 5(a) of the Act. By the removal of the guards, you are placing your employer in violation of the Act as well as yourself. While there are no set penalties for employees other than reprimand and possible dismissal, the employer can be penalized. (See Section 17.)

As far as needle guards are concerned, it is known by past experience that many employees have had their fingers pierced and, in some cases, needles have broken off in the finger. You can consider yourself fortunate if you have not been injured sometime during your working career. By the use of guards, operators, when distracted, will not be injured by their machines. It is like seat belts in automobiles. Since being installed in cars, the user of seat belts are considerably better protected than those who elect not to belt up. Statistics have already proven this point.

Safety is a peculiar business. Laws are passed to protect people. Some people complain that we are not doing enough, while other complain about what we have done. We have to protect each and every employee. Therefore, even though you do not think the guards on your machine are good, there are others who complain about them not being placed on their machines. I am returning your guard (under separate cover) so that it can be remounted in order that you and your employer may be in compliance with the Act. In the long run, all employees benefit by the proper use of guards. We do appreciate your interest in occupational safety.

If I can be of any further assistance, please feel free to contact me.


Barry J. White
Associate Assistant Secretary
or Regional Programs