What not to leave at work

May 13, 2008
By: Vicki Bell

The metal fabricating industry is among the employment sectors with the highest rates of amputations from on-the-job accidents. Many are caused by improperly safeguarded machinery, hand tools, forklifts, and other equipment. Preventing workplace amputations requires adhering to strict safety guidelines, including making amputation awareness a part of your safety program.

Manufacturing Machine

You may have heard the admonition to leave work at work and not take your job duties or concerns home. That's good advice, especially if you want to live a balanced life in harmony with your loved ones.

Besides leaving work at work, you also should leave the company's property there, unless you've been authorized to take items, such as a cell phone or laptop, off the premises. It isn't OK to duplicate the scene from the movie "The Savages," in which Laura Linney's character, a temp worker, loads her bag with Post-It® notes, pens, and other office supplies at the end of her assignment. Don't bite the hand that feeds you.

What you don't want to leave at work is your living, breathing life or any of your body parts.

Workplace Hazards

You often hear that most accidents occur in the home or close to home. While this is true, many serious accidents also occur in the workplace, particularly in manufacturing facilities. The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board's (WSIB) top workplace hazards listreads like a menu of industrial accident causes:

  • Falls
  • Machinery
  • Moving Vehicles
  • Overexertion
  • Collapsing Platforms or Equipment
  • Explosions and Fires
  • Electrical Hazards
  • Confined Space
  • Hazardous Chemicals
  • Falling Objects
  • Workplace Violence
  • Burns

Some of these on-the-job accidents result in amputations.

Workplace Amputation Statistics

The Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration (TOSHA) reported that thousands of U.S. workers across all industries suffer workplace amputations. In Tennessee alone, 352 amputations were reported in 2007. The majority occurred in the manufacturing sector and were caused by the use and care of machines such as saws; presses; conveyors; and bending, rolling, or shaping machines, as well as from powered and nonpowered hand tools, forklifts, doors, trash compactors, and during materials handling activities.

"TOSHA believes employee exposure to unguarded or inadequately guarded machines is a primary cause of amputations," said John Winkler, TOSHA administrator. "We feel it is very important to help make sure facilities with machines that could cause amputations are properly safeguarded."

The U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that during the period 1992-99, there were on average more than 21 fatal and more than 11,000 nonfatal workplace amputations annually. Fifty-three percent of these nonfatal amputations occurred in manufacturing alone, resulting in a rate of amputations for that industry that was more than 2.5 times higher than the national average in 1999. Operators, fabricators, and laborers accounted for more nonfatal amputations than all other occupations combined.

Although the manufacturing industry accounted for the majority of nonfatal amputations, it represented less than 19 percent of total employment during this period. Moreover, as its proportion of total employment declined steadily—from nearly 20 percent in 1992 to about 17 percent in 1999—manufacturing's share of nonfatal amputations increased slightly over the period.

The March 2006, "National Strategy for Personal Protective Technologies Research for Manufacturingreport," prepared for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), stated that the average rate of amputations in the manufacturing sector is 2.6 injuries per 10,000 workers. Two subsectors exceed twice this rate: fabricated metal and wood subsectors at a rate of 5.9 and 5.4 amputations, respectively. Each year there are an estimated 4.2 to6.7 amputations per 10,000 workers in the metal fabrication trades in the U.S.

One Worker's Loss

An example of an accident that led to an amputation can be found in an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) news releaseabout a worker in an airplane parts manufacturing plant in Connecticut who lost a thumb and part of a finger in an unguarded hydraulic press. A site inspection found several instances in which this press and other machines either lacked guarding to prevent employee contact with moving parts or guarding mechanisms had been bypassed, rendering them ineffective.

OSHA fined the company $167,500. The worker paid a much dearer price.

Making Your Operation Amputation-resistant

As an employer, how can you limit the risk of amputation?

  • Verify that machinery has adequate safeguarding, including lockout/tagout, and that these mechanisms are in good working order. Machinery manufacturers, safety equipment providers, and OSHA inspectors can help you accomplish this.
  • Do not allow safety mechanisms to be bypassed. Operate machinery only when all safety mechanisms are fully engaged.
  • Make sure that only trained, qualified workers operate hazardous equipment.
  • Include amputation awareness in your safety training programs. While it may seem obvious to you that a machine has the potential to crush or sever body parts, don't assume that others are aware.
  • Provide workers with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) that can help reduce the likelihood of injury.
  • Never leave a single employee isolated operating a machine. Make sure someone is there to help should the need arise.
  • Stay abreast of current safety technology. Think about ways that machinery could be made safer and share your ideas with manufacturers.

Workers, you too are responsible for your own safety. Make sure you receive the necessary training to operate a machine safely, and follow all guidelines. Don't take short cuts. And whatever you do, never operate a machine if you are physically or mentally impaired. Be aware and alert. Take all your body parts home with you.

Vicki Bell

Vicki Bell

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8209