On June 22, 2016, at least eight workers across the country lost fingers and fingertips due to on-the-job amputations.
In Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin, the workers were clearing jams, operating machines, handling saws, or performing other routine tasks when the workday suddenly took a gruesome turn: blood. A rush to the emergency room. A life altered in ways large and small.
There was nothing unusual about that summer day. Since OSHA began requiring employers to report severe injuries in 2015, we have recorded thousands of work-related amputations—on average more than seven a day.
The total national number is undoubtedly higher because OSHA data do not include amputations in workplaces that are covered by the 28 states and territories running their own health and safety plans. And we know that many employers are still not reporting amputations and hospitalizations to us, as our regulations require.
More than 90% of the reported amputations involved fingers, but workers also lost hands, toes, feet, and other body parts.
Injuries like these are preventable by following three simple (and legally mandated) tips:
- Turn off and lock out power sources. Ensure that machines are de-energized whenever they’re being serviced.
- Prevent contact. Install machine guards or use other engineering means to prevent hands and other body parts from contacting dangerous parts during operation.
- Train workers: Ensure that workers are trained in the safe use and maintenance of potentially hazardous equipment, and ensure that those safe practices are followed every day.
National, Local Efforts
To raise awareness and encourage compliance with federal safety rules, OSHA created a national emphasis program on amputations in August 2015. This designation directs all OSHA offices to prioritize compliance assistance outreach as well as inspections in industries known for presenting amputation hazards.
Some regional offices are doing even more.
In Arkansas, OSHA took part in the second annual Amputation Prevention Stand Down, which trained more than 9,000 workers to recognize and eliminate amputation hazards over a two-week period.
And in New England, OSHA staged a “Cut-It-Out” Stand Down focused on the dangers of cut-off saws, which were responsible for several injuries and a fatality in the past year. More than 35 companies participated, reaching more than 1,700 employees.
Other offices across the country focused amputation prevention efforts on specific industries including meat and poultry processing, recycling and scrap metal operations, and supermarket delis.
Any employers whose operations may present amputation hazards are encouraged to contact their local area office for more information or schedule a free onsite consultation to identify hazards and ways to make the workplace safer.
Seven amputations a day is far too many. Let’s work together to end this trend.
This article first appeared as a Jan. 13 U.S. Department of Labor blog post by Jordan Barab, deputy assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health.