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OSHA Using Amputations to Uncover Additional Hazards

LIUNA General President Terry O'Sullivan
LIUNA General President
Terry O’Sullivan

Since the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) new injury reporting requirements went into effect in January, there’s been more discussion about the importance of preventing amputations. Employers are now required to report all amputations and hospitalizations to OSHA within 24 hours; only a few state plans had this mandate prior to 2015. A recent letter of clarification from OSHA defines an amputation as “the traumatic loss of a limb or other external body part … with or without bone loss.”

Data for the number of amputations in construction in 2015 won’t be available for some time, but previous data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) gives us a good idea of what to expect. In 2013, construction workers suffered 1,380 amputations at work – nearly one quarter of the total across all industries. Of these amputations, more than 95 percent were fingers, fingertips and fingernails. Seventy construction workers suffered an amputation to a foot or toe, 40 lost a leg and 30 lost an arm or part of one.

Many finger amputations are the result of improper machine guarding or a lack of proper lockout/tagout procedures during equipment maintenance. Fortunately, these types of injuries are easily preventable.

Following Proper Lockout/Tagout (LOTO) Procedures

OSHA’s Control of Hazardous Energy (Lockout/Tagout) standard mandates specific practices to safeguard employees from machinery unexpectedly starting during service, maintenance or cleaning activities. Although this standard is not mandatory in the construction industry, responsible contractors make a point of following it anyway, and it is recognized as a routine safety practice in the industry.

A lockout device is a key or combination lock with the worker’s name. Attaching this device to a circuit breaker or switch prevents the equipment from being powered on unexpectedly. Most importantly, the worker has the only key to his or her lock. This video describes how a worker was killed at the Bacardi manufacturing plant in 2013 – a tragedy that could have been prevented if a lockout device was in use. Although a lockout device is preferred, a tagout device can also be used when equipment cannot be locked out. A tagout device is a tag, often attached to a wire, which includes a sign or label clearly stating that no one should turn on the equipment without permission.

LOTO procedures are not complicated, but skipping or ignoring any of the steps below can lead to a disaster.

  1. Preparation: Employers should provide a written procedure that details how to shut down and restart the equipment being used. Employees should review this procedure prior to beginning work on the equipment. This is also a good time for employees to check themselves for anything that could get caught in machinery or pinch points, including long sleeves or pants, loose-fitting clothing or jewelry.
  2. Notification: Employees should notify equipment operators and supervisors that the power is being disconnected or isolated.
  3. Shutdown: Turn off equipment.
  4. Isolation: Use isolating devices, such as manual circuit breakers or disconnect switches; pushbuttons or selector switches alone are not sufficient.
  5. Maintenance: Use a LOTO device for each energy source in the piece of equipment; several may be needed. The worker who installs the LOTO device should be the only person to remove it.

These practices help prevent bystanders from mistakenly re-energizing a piece of equipment while other workers are still exposed to moving parts or open electrical circuits. Following each step is key to protecting workers from amputations, electrocution or death.

Amputations a Sign of Future Injuries?

“Some view amputations as relatively minor injuries because they usually don’t result in life-threatening injuries or fatalities,” says LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan. “But LIUNA and the LHSFNA view any amputation as a significant workplace injury. Laborers generally miss at least a month of work following an amputation and are often permanently disabled even after they return to work.”

OSHA’s view is that amputations are likely to indicate shortcomings in other areas of occupational health and safety programs. Massachusetts has required amputation reporting for some time and follow-up inspections of amputations have routinely uncovered hazardous conditions associated with other serious injuries.

Rather than performing random inspections or waiting to be called to a worksite, OSHA plans to use these new reporting requirements to enhance their targeting efforts for inspections. They may also recommend employers perform a root cause investigation to see how future injuries can be avoided. The goal is that reporting these incidents will encourage employers to take a closer look at their workplaces and how they can improve safety.

For more information on proper LOTO procedures, order the Fund’s Lockout/Tagout Health Alert in the online Publications Catalogue. Employers can also refer to the ANSI/ASSE A10.44-2014 Control of Energy Sources for Construction and Demolition Operations standard. For assistance with your site’s safety and health program, call the LHSFNA’s Occupational Safety and Health Division at 202-628-5465.

[Nick Fox]

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