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  Preventing Amputations
  by Fred Walters
 
OSHA's national emphasis program is helping reduce these maiming injuries.
Photo: compactorLast summer, a worker at a Georgia aerosol manufacturing company used his feet to tamp down cardboard inside a compactor's loading chamber while the machine was still running. As the compactor's horizontal ram entered the chamber to finish flattening the material, the cardboard "grabbed" the man's feet and immobilized him, and the ram severed both of his legs.

OSHA investigators discovered that this company did not enforce its lockout procedure, which would have made the compactor inoperable before workers enter the receiving chamber. Investigators also found that management knew that workers bypassed the two-hand control used to activate the compactor by taping down the control buttons, but did not take corrective action. The result was an ideal environment for amputations.

Amputations are among the nation's top three severe workplace injuries and illnesses, and most are not repairable through surgery. Among major industry divisions, amputations are most frequent in the manufacturing sector, followed by construction and the retail trade. More than half of these victims require 18 days or more away from work to recuperate.

Data from OSHA, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicate that presses, saws, shears, slitters, and slicers cause the most amputations. Maintenance and jam-clearing also contribute to these injuries.

"Amputations are among the most crippling on-the-job accidents, and may occur when employees use unguarded or inadequately safeguarded machinery," says Long Loo, a safety engineer in OSHA's Technical Support Directorate.

Photo: WorkerAlthough any mechanical motion is potentially hazardous, rotating, reciprocating, cutting, punching, shearing, and bending motions are the most frequent causes of amputations. Amputations can occur at points of operation, where a machine performs work on material; in mechanical power-transmission components such as pulleys, belts, chains, and gears; and in other moving parts.

In spite of the many potential hazards for workplace amputations, current BLS data show that, between 1994 and 1999, nonfatal amputations in private industry decreased by more than 18 percent, from 12,222 to 9,985. Between 1992 and 2000, combined fatal amputations in both the private and public sectors declined from 27 to 18, or just over 33 percent.

OSHA Administrator John L. Henshaw says this demonstrates that amputations are preventable. He says the agency's new national emphasis program on amputations, launched last November, is committed to continuing this downward trend. This initiative expands the scope of the existing program covering all types of power presses as well as saws, shears, slicers, and slitters. "Operating this type of equipment can be very dangerous. Injuries involving these machines too often result in a fatality or permanent disability," says Henshaw. "This new program will help us identify and guard against the workplace hazards that are likely to cause amputations."


Safety Tips at a Glance
• Use machine guards as physical barriers to hazardous areas and machine parts.
• Use safety devices to prevent contact with points of operation.
• Enforce lockout/ tagout procedures to safeguard employees from unexpected equipment startups or energization.


The best way to reduce the risk of amputation in the workplace is by using machine guards and safety devices and following lockout/tagout procedures. Guards act as physical barriers to hazardous areas and machine components. In addition to being secure, strong, and tamperproof, they should not block the machine operator's view. Safety devices prevent worker contact with points of operation during the hazardous portion of a machine's cycle and may replace or supplement guards. These devices keep operators from reaching into moving machine parts or stop the machine cycle when the operator's hands get too close to the machinery.

Photo:  OSHA Publication 3170 - click to downloadDr. John R. Etherton, a research safety engineer with NIOSH's Division of Safety Research, says amputations are preventable and that preventing them is everyone's job- management's as well as workers'. "Management should recognize the risk to their workers who operate hazardous machinery and analyze their operating systems, particularly the specific tasks involved, to develop appropriate safeguards that will reduce that risk," he says. "Management should also include machine operators and maintenance personnel when developing and applying these safeguards and protective measures, because these workers are more familiar with the machines they use and the tasks they perform."

Etherton says a systematic approach to putting protective measures in place could have a significant impact on reducing these injuries. "Safeguards and methodologies are available for virtually every hazardous task. Ensuring that guards and safety devices are installed on machines-and not bypassed by workers-is a critical supervisory responsibility," he adds. "Ultimately, it is incumbent on management to create workplaces that are free from amputation hazards by marshaling all the forces needed to make machine safety happen."

Photo:  compactorFor more information about amputations, visit the OSHA website at www.osha.gov. Click on Newsroom, then Publications. The site offers a new OSHA publication, Safeguarding Equipment and Protecting Workers from Amputations (OSHA 3170 - click here download) and a new fact sheet, Amputations, as well as two related publications, Control of Hazardous Energy (Lockout/Tagout), OSHA 3120; and Concepts and Techniques of Machine Safeguarding, OSHA 3067. A new electronic Compliance Assistance Tool is expected to be released later this year.

Walters is a writer-editor in OSHA's Office of Public Affairs in Washington, DC.