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The Importance of Reducing Nonfatal Safety Incidents

October 14, 2015

stay-safeIn April of this year a printing press operator at Bancroft Bags Inc. in West Monroe, LA, a leading manufacturer of bags for pet food, fertilizer, and chemical products, was trying to remove a gear from the machine’s shaft when his hand was pulled into the gears, tearing off his index finger. The subsequent investigation resulted in OSHA citing Bancroft with 16 serious violations related to machine guarding and lockout/tagout procedures, and $84,000 in penalties.

We tend to talk about non-fatal workplace safety incidents as injuries that may require medical treatment or even a stay in the hospital, but are recoverable. However, these workers often have to deal with long-term issues and complications, such as lifelong stiffness and soreness following a back injury or daily headaches caused by a head trauma. One type of injury among these that is often the most debilitating is the amputation of an employee’s body part.

After the Bancroft incident, Dorinda Folse, OSHA’s Baton Rouge area director, was quoted as saying:

“The cost of implementing safety procedures is so low, and the cost of ignoring them is so high. If Bancroft had implemented procedures to keep the press from starting up, this man would still have all 10 fingers. Instead he’s suffered an injury that will affect him the rest of his life. This was a preventable injury and it’s incumbent upon the employer to find and fix hazards that pose a threat to the safety and health of its workers.”

Folse makes a key point in her statement, that an injury requiring amputation is life-changing. Employees who lose a finger, hand, leg, eye, etc. must learn to readjust their work habits to continue performing their jobs, if they are even able to do so, which then leads to the question of how their future earning potential and career options may be altered due to their injury. Furthermore, their home lives are also forever changed as they have to get used to their new circumstances and adjust their daily routines and ways of doing even simple tasks.

Amputations most commonly occur when employees have a body part compressed, crushed, or caught between/struck by objects while operating unguarded or inadequately safeguarded machines such as mechanical power presses, printing presses, food slicers and meat grinders, saws, drill presses, and milling machines. The components in these machines that present amputation hazards are:

  • Point of operation – the area of a machine where it performs work on material

  • Power-transmission apparatuses – flywheels, pulleys, belts, chains, gears, and other parts that transmit energy

  • Mechanical motion – components that move during machine operation such as rotating, reciprocating, transversing, cutting, punching, shearing, and bending parts

In order to avoid these injuries, organizations need only ensure that their machines are outfitted with two types of safeguarding equipment:

  • Guards provide physical barriers that prevent access to hazardous areas. They should be secure and strong, and workers should not be able to bypass, remove, or tamper with them. They should also be designed such that they do not obstruct the operator’s view or prevent work from being performed

  • Devices supplement guards and help prevent contact with points of operation. They can interrupt the normal machine cycle when the worker’s hands are at the point of operation, prevent workers from reaching into the point of operation, or withdraw the worker’s hands if they approach the point of operation when the machine cycles.

This equipment may come installed when new machines are purchased, but if not, they can be purchased separately or built in-house as long as they meet safety guidelines. In addition, OSHA’s National Emphasis Program on Amputations provides valuable information about other measures that managers and safety leaders can take to minimize the opportunity for amputations to occur. The bottom line is that these injuries are preventable, so we must adopt the idea that every worker should go home in one piece at the end of the day as more than just a phrase, but rather a fundamental belief in our efforts to maintain safety in our workplaces.

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Craig White Craig White is a doctoral student in the industrial/organizational psychology program at Texas A&M University. His research domains include selection test development, training, and team processes and performance. He has been closely involved in applied safety and health research projects at the Michael E. DeBakey VAMC Health Services Research and Development CoE in Houston, TX.