Recent studies illuminate just how common amputation injuries are in workplaces around America, including Massachusetts. One study was on a national scale; it was conducted by the Minnesota Department of Health. It found that the United States had 8,450 non-fatal amputations in 2005 alone.
About 44% of these amputations happened at manufacturing plants, but the remaining amputations happened in construction, retail, wholesale, and agriculture industries. The body part most frequently amputated in a workplace accident was a finger.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has noted that there are four types of workplace exposures that are more likely to cause nonfatal workplace amputations. The most common amputations were those caused by running machinery or machinery that turned on unexpectedly. The second most common exposure arose from workers getting caught or crushed by parts and materials. This happens when a worker is crushed by materials falling upon him. The third leading cause of nonfatal amputations was motor vehicle accidents. Finally hand tools were the four most common type of exposure.
Although this is a useful typology of amputation exposures, it does not tell us the whole picture. According to OSHA, all mechanical motion is dangerous. Many machines and hazardous conditions can cause unanticipated amputations These include machine parts falling and crushing a worker or a worker’s body part, as well as meat-cutting saws, drills presses, printing presses, sheering machines and conveyor belts. The most hazardous mechanical motions according to OSHA are rotating, reciprocating, transversing, cutting, punching, shearing and bending.
The OSHA standards that govern amputation hazards can be found in Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations. There are sections on machinery and machine guarding, hand tools and powered tools, agricultural equipment, and maritime operations.
As with any dangerous activity, employers and workers should inspect machinery for hazards ahead of time to make sure the machinery is working properly. These inspections should look at pinch points where at least one part of a machine is moving in a circle, wrap points where a piece of machinery is exposed, shear points where two moving parts move across each other, crush points such as gears, pull-in points where objects can be sucked into the machine such as a feeder roll, and machines that throw objects like wood chippers.
Employers have a responsibility to keep their workers safe in the workplace. This means they should provide safe equipment. In addition to worker checks of the machine, employers should also make sure where possible that machinery has safeguards.
A safeguard can detect and prevent hazards, stopping the machine before an accident happens. There are three major kinds of safeguards: awareness barriers that allow employee access into a hazardous zone, awareness signals that use an audio or visual signal to alert the employee to a hazard, and awareness signs that notify the employee of a hazard.
Amputations are among the most disabling of all workplace injuries. Some amputations can end a worker’s career because of their impact on a worker’s ability to perform physical requirements of the job. Workers who have suffered an amputation and are either unable to perform their job any longer or who have to take time off from work in order to recuperate may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.
If you have suffered from an amputation or other serious injury at work, you should consult with an experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney. Contact Kantrovitz & Associates for advice on whether you should file a claim. Call us at 617-367-0880 or contact us via our online form.