Oregon OSHA's

Health and Safety Resource

Print version

August 5, 2016

Use them, but don't lose them
- How to prevent amputations at work

Unlike salamanders and newts, which can regenerate limbs, humans have only one set of appendages; a transplant or prosthesis is the only option for recovering the loss. Because our limbs are vulnerable, they're also an easy target on the battlefield and have been long been taken as a form of retribution for a variety of misdeeds.

Some cultures believed that an amputation affected the amputee in the afterlife, as well; amputated limbs were buried, and when the amputee died, they were reburied with the amputee to ensure a complete eternal life.

Amputations are not the sole province of mortals, however. Aztec god Tezcatlitoca was a right-foot amputee (who apparently lost his foot battling with the Earth Monster), and in Irish mythology, Nuada Airgetlám, the first king of the Tuatha Dé Danann, lost his left arm in battle, which also cost him his kingship because Tuatha Dé tradition required that their kings be physically perfect.

In this country, at least 30,000 traumatic amputations happen every year. Motor vehicle accidents account for the majority; the workplace and the farm rank close together as the No. 2 and 3 causes. Amputations account for less than 1 percent of disabling workplace injuries in Oregon, but the consequences can be devastating for victims.

At work: amputations and recordkeeping

Oregon OSHA defines an amputation as the traumatic loss of a limb or other external body part (including bone or cartilage). Amputations include loss of a body part due to a gunshot and medical amputations due to irreparable traumatic injuries.

Under Oregon OSHA's recordkeeping rule (437-001-0704), which became effective on Jan. 1, employers must report all work-related amputations to Oregon OSHA within 24 hours of the time they learn about it. Any injury involving a mechanical power press must also be reported to Oregon OSHA within 24 hours.

How workplace amputations happen

Machines that have moving parts and workers who operate them have an uneasy relationship. Machines make workers more productive and enable them to form, shape, and cut material in ways that would be impossible with manual hand tools. However, moving machine parts – rotating shafts, gears, cogs, and flywheels – and the mechanisms for cutting, shearing, bending, and drilling material often keep moving regardless of who or what gets in their way.

Technology can make machines safer, but as long as workers need machines to help them process material, they will be exposed to moving parts that can harm them.

Machinery was the source of 47 percent of the accepted workers' compensation claims for amputations in Oregon from 2013 through 2015; parts, materials, and powered hand tools added another 23 percent to the total. Not surprisingly, more than 90 percent of those amputations were fingers.

graph of amputations by source
graph of amputations by body part

Preventing amputations: If it moves, it merits your attention

Oregon OSHA Training Specialist Craig Hamelund, who has taught classes on machine guarding for many years, offers advice on how to think about machines with moving parts: "Several years ago, I had the fortunate experience to be mentored by Jeff Harmon, a wonderful safety consultant with South Carolina OSHA. On our way to inspect a facility that housed many types of metal stamping presses and talking about machine guarding, he simply advised me by saying: 'If it moves, it merits your attention.' I keep that in mind when I evaluate machines that have moving parts. Jeff's advice allowed me to focus on any hazardous machine motion or action, as well as its operating process and its interaction with the operators."

Hamelund says the best way to prevent workplace amputations is to use safety devices and machine guards and to follow procedures for controlling hazardous energy when it is necessary to service a machine.

  • 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.
  • Machine guards are physical barriers that keep body parts away from a machine's hazardous mechanical components and motions. Guards should be secure, strong, tamperproof, and should not block the machine operator's view.
  • Procedures for controlling hazardous energy (lockout/tagout) ensure that machines do not start or move unexpectedly when workers are servicing or maintaining them.

Hamelund notes that machine guards are effective only if they are designed, installed, and used correctly. Whether the safeguard is a physical barrier or a robust electronic device, machine operators, supervisors, and maintenance personnel must be fully aware of the guard's benefits and limitations – and must be held accountable for the responsibilities they have been assigned.

An emphasis on general industry workplaces

Oregon OSHA has also adopted a national emphasis program established by federal OSHA (and updated in 2015) to target general industry workplaces where amputations have occurred and workplaces with machinery capable of causing amputations. Under the program, employers most likely to be inspected are those with a history of workplace amputations or violations of Oregon OSHA's general industry machine guarding rules, which include:

  • Division 2/Subdivision I, Personal Protective Equipment
  • Division 2/Subdivision J, General Environmental Controls (Lockout/Tagout)
  • Division 2/Subdivision N, Material Handling and Storage
  • Division 2/Subdivision O, Machinery and Machine Guarding
  • Division 2/Subdivision P, Hand and Portable Powered Tools
  • Division 2/Subdivision R, Special Industries (sawmills and pulp and paper mills)

Oregon OSHA rules also require that employees use the manufacturer's instruction manual and follow the manual's operating procedures when they are using the machines.

Machine guarding requirements in other industries

Other Oregon OSHA rules covering safety devices, machine guarding, and hazardous energy include:


  • Division 3/Subdivision E, Personal Protective and Life Saving Equipment
  • Division 3/Subdivision I, Tools — Hand and Power


  • Division 4/Subdivision I, Protective Equipment
  • Division 4/Subdivision J, Work Environment (Lockout/Tagout)
  • Division 4/Subdivision N, Material Handling
  • Division 4/Subdivision O, Equipment Guarding
  • Division 4/Subdivision P, Small Tools
  • Forest Activities
  • Division 7/Subdivision D, Personal Protective Equipment and Programs
  • Subdivision E, Tools, Fire Extinguishers and Explosives
  • Subdivision H, Machines Used In Forest Activities

Many of Oregon OSHA's rules covering safety devices and machine guarding are based on consensus standards published by The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), including:

  • ANSI B11 – Machine guarding
  • ANSI B151 – Plastics injection and extrusion machinery
  • ANSI B155 – Packaging machinery
  • ANSI B177 – Three roller printing ink mills
  • ANSI B5 – External cylindrical grinding machines
  • ANSI B65 – Printing press systems
  • ANSI B7 – Abrasive wheel machinery
  • ANSI O1 – Woodworking machinery
  • ANSI Z244 – Control of hazardous energy
  • ANSI/CEMA – Packaging handling slant conveyors
  • ASME B15 – Mechanical power transmission apparatus
  • ASME B20 – Conveyers
  • ASME/CEMA – Unit handling conveyors
  • ASME/CEMA 350 – Screw conveyors

Most workplace amputations happen when workers are doing the following:

  • Operating a machine
  • Adjusting a machine
  • Setting up the machine
  • Cleaning a machine
  • Clearing jams for removing materials
  • Servicing or maintaining a machine
  • Using a machine without an appropriate guard.

Usually, the machine is running and the amputation happens at one of two places:

  • Where the machine does work such as cutting, shaping, boring, and forming - called the point of operation.
  • In flywheels, pulleys, belts, chains, couplings, connecting rods, spindles, cams, and gears that power the machine.

Did you know?

Facts about amputations

  • The main causes of amputations are vascular disease (54 percent), trauma (45 percent), and cancer (less than 2 percent)
  • More than two-thirds of trauma-related amputations happen to adolescents and adults younger than age 45.
  • Nearly 80 percent of traumatic amputation victims are male.
  • The most common traumatic amputation is partial hand amputation with loss of one or more fingers.
  • About 75 percent of amputees feel pain in their nonexistent limbs.


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