Employee Amputations Spotlight The Need for Greater Focus On Workplace Safety

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I have previously written about the issue of workplace accidents, injuries and fatalities calling for greater remedial effort, including predictexpanding educational and informational awareness communication to help redress the escalating problem. A recent news headline (Tyson Foods Factories Saw Nearly 2 Worker Amputations Per Month) highlighted one gruesome injury sub-category in this growing crisis, that of employee workplace amputations.

In this example, an employee in Missouri lost both of his hands in one workplace incident. Unfortunately, such incidents are far more common than most people realize. In fact, in the case of just one major employer, such workplace amputation accidents are a periodical workplace horror.  Michael Harthorne, writing in Newser, explained the scope of the problem in this case:

“The largest meat producer in America averaged nearly two worker amputations per month in its factories to start 2015. And that’s likely just the tip of the iceberg. Celeste Monforton, a professor of occupational health, requested federal injury reports for Tyson Foods for the first nine months of 2015, BuzzFeed reports. What she found is the stuff of nightmares. According to Monforton’s blog, 17 amputations were reported at 10 Tyson meat processing plants during those months. One Arkansas employee lost the tip of a finger to an ‘impeller.’ An employee in Nebraska lost three fingers to a ‘skinner.’ And one poor Missouri employee lost both hands to an “auger.’ ‘The names of these tools tell just part of the story of why these amputations occurred,’ Monforton writes. ‘Their names, however, provide more than an inkling about the physical demands of these jobs.’”

Other news reports also illustrated the scope of the problem:

“According to OSHA data acquired by Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH of Milken Institute School of Public Health, George Washington University, there were at least 17 reported worker amputations—more than one per month–among Tyson’s more than 400 U.S. facilities in 2015. Most of the amputations happen on the processing line and include parts of or entire fingers. In one case an employee lost both hands. ‘Skinners. Band saws. Wing saws. Hide grippers. The names of these tools tell just part of the story of why these amputations occurred,’ writes Monforton on ScienceBlogs. ‘Their names, however, provide more than an inkling about the physical demands of these jobs.’ Working in slaughterhouses, animal processing plants, and factory farms are among the riskiest jobs in the U.S. Not only are many of the employees poorly paid illegal immigrants—nearly 40 percent weren’t born in the U.S.–but they’re often exhausted, working long or double-shifts on lines that move incredibly fast. And there’s no job security, either, especially for undocumented workers.”

It also seems likely that the number of these workplace amputation incidents are under-reported and the problem may be even larger than what the data summarizes.

Amputations Occur Beyond Slaughterhouse Workplaces

While the occurrences of worker amputations in slaughterhouses could be regarded as somewhat predictable (but never excusable) it is helpful to note that employee amputations occur in many other industry sectors as well.

Workplace occupational amputation injuries have been reported in many industry sectors including:

  • Manufacturing and Machinery operationsContainer dock
  • Airline Industry and Maintenance
  • Transportation (and all sector work-related motor vehicle accidents)
  • Construction
  • Food Handling/Preparation
  • Furniture Manufacturing
  • Textile Manufacturing
  • Landscaping
  • Agricultural and ranching
  • Automobile assembly
  • Printing
  • Oil Field
  • Mining
  • Lumber/Timber
  • Fishing and Aquaculture

Tess C. Taylor and Linda Richter (Prevent Workplace Accidents by Recognizing Common Causes)   commented on the preventable causes of workplace injuries, including occupational amputations:

“There are numerous preventable causes of workplace accidents, which cost Americans more than $650 billion annually, according to 2008 figures produced by the National Safety Council. The Department of Labor indicates, as recent as 2010, that there are on average 3.6 workplace injuries per 100 employees every year. Those numbers are too high for the comfort of most companies because this can cost time, money and productivity. It has been proven, however, that by having an established policy on preventing workplace accidents and continual staff training, accidents can be minimized – significantly reducing costs to employers.”

Prevention Diligence, Education and Communication

Workplace amputations are, by and large, preventable accidents. There are steps which can be taken to reduce the frequency, significance and impact of workplace amputations.

The most direct path to reducing workplace accidents – including occupational amputations – is to enhance and motivate better employee behaviors while doing their jobs. Employers are responsible to ensure that employees appropriately follow procedures and processes, use equipment properly, use proper safety protection, and ensure that they are well rested, physically capable of performing their tasks, attentive (not distracted) and aware of their environment and situation. In addition to lack of training, failure to properly supervise and exhausted workers is the problem of missing safety guards and defective equipment.

A significant percentage of occupational amputations are correlated with specific tasks or using specific types of equipment and machinery. Too often, the training for these tasks or using such equipment is insufficient and rarely reinforced. Further, employee performance spot checks and active monitoring of employee performance is absent.  There are also widely acknowledged instances of failure to properly maintain equipment for safe operation that have resulted in worker injuries and amputations.

Workplace safety requires active training and persistence of workplace safety communication. Some workers suffer occupational amputations because they did not receive adequate training or safety information. Without strategic and consistent safety communication, there are statistically measurable higher numbers of workplace accidents. Assigning under-trained employees lacking safety information and the motivational urgency of adherence to tasks, or using equipment for which they are not qualified or prepared to handle leads to greater risks of accidents and injuries. This alone can lead to serious injuries to workers and property. To prevent workplace accidents, take time to develop a clear plan for training all employees from day one. Foster safety as a corporate initiative by encouraging managers to supervise and re-train employees whenever possible at workplace safety meetings.

A comprehensive and coordinated workplace safety communication plan is essential to prevent, mitigate and manage the disastrous workplace crises of accidents, injuries and workplace amputations. Workplace safety has to become a priority for planning and preparation.

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