August 5, 2016
By Ellis Brasch
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Other Oregon OSHA rules covering safety devices, machine guarding, and hazardous energy include:
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:
Facts about amputations
If you want to receive the Resource Newsletter, sign up for future issues here.
Reprinting, excerpting, or plagiarizing any part of this publication is fine with us. Please send us a copy of your publication or inform the Resource editor as a courtesy. If you have questions about the information in Resource, please call 503-378-3272.
For general information, technical answers, or information about Oregon OSHA services, please call 503-378-3272 or toll-free within Oregon, 800-922-2689.