Improperly protected machines cause numerous workplace amputations each year. In the manufacturing sector alone, the annual rate of workplace amputations is 1.7 per 10,000 workers. This is more than twice the rate of amputations recorded for all workers in the United States. In 2015, the US Department of Labor recorded 2,600 workplace amputations. Of these, 57% occurred in the manufacturing sector. This represents a reduction from the 5,260 workplace amputations recorded in 2010. However, while the number of workplace amputations is declining, the current statistics highlight the need for enhanced protection and enforcement of OSHA standards regarding machine guarding to further reduce the risk of amputation.
96% of amputations involve the loss of one or more fingers. The median number of days away from work caused by an amputation is 21. Nationwide, workers involved in manufacturing, material handling, moving, transportation, construction, and extraction are at greatest risk of experiencing an amputation injury.
While every machine has the potential to cause a workplace amputation, some machines are simply more dangerous than others. Machines whose motions include rotation of cams, clutches, and flywheels can grab clothing and force body parts into the machinery. Machines that rely on back-and-forth and/or up and down motions can strike arms and legs. Similarly, workers operating machines that transverse items such as sheet metal or glass can create shear points or trap workers between fixed objects and the material being moved.
It is also not uncommon for materials that cut or punch material to cause workplace amputations. Workers whose limbs are placed in the path of the saw or knife, shears or guillotine cutters, or beneath the stamp in a power press or joiner can lose limbs when safeguards including shields or cutoff switches are not present. These safety features are designed to limit an employee’s exposure to a work injury and the potential for amputation.
Some of the most dangerous machines in the workplace are meat grinders, food slicers, power press brakes, printing presses, conveyors, and milling machines. These tools require workers to work in close proximity to tools that can severely damage or remove limbs. Safety features that are installed on any machine that can cause amputation are required to undergo rigorous testing to ensure compliance with standards and regulations.
OSHA Steps Up Education and Enforcement
OSHA is working to reduce the rates of workplace amputations in the United States. In November 2016, OSHA announced targeted enforcement efforts in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas. Employers who are found to be in violation of OSHA standards can face significant fines and penalties for placing worker safety in jeopardy.
In order to reduce the rates of workplace amputations, OSHA is recommending that employers properly train workers in the safe operation of machinery and conduct continual training seminars that thoroughly cover the proper procedures for safe operation. OSHA also recommends enhanced administrative oversight to ensure that everyone from managers to entry-level workers is properly supervised and have the knowledge required to operate any machine that creates the potential for an amputation.
Guards on devices must be solid and secure. They cannot be tampered with, removed, or allowed to be bypassed. Safety devices must prevent contact with operational points such as sharp blades that carry the potential for causing an amputation. In order to ensure compliance with safety standards, OSHA has produced numerous checklists and training materials that employers can reference to uncover deficiencies and take corrective actions prior to an amputation occurring. These materials are provided and tailored to a wide number of injuries and cover a vast number of machines that commonly cause workplace amputations.
Employers who are cited for violating safety standards aimed at preventing amputations are required to verify that they have taken appropriate steps at abatement of the violation. This requires thoroughly documenting the steps the employer has taken to install proper shields, guards, cutoff switches, and provide training to employees on the safe operation of equipment and machinery.
Liability for Workplace Amputations
Employers, equipment manufacturers, and individuals whose actions cause a workplace amputation can be held liable by a work injury attorney for their negligent actions. Workers who have lost a limb, whether it is an arm, leg, finger, or toe can pursue claims for lost wages, medical expenses, pain and suffering, and loss of earning capacity. Workers in Illinois can pursue workers’ compensation claims for up to three years following an accident, or up to two years following the date they applied for workers’ compensation benefits for the injury. When amputations occur, a work injury attorney can use information including safety citations, medical records, and eyewitness testimony can establish the cause of the accident and the impact it has on the worker’s ability to continue performing regular job functions.