Consider the Consequences: Preventing Life-Altering, Though Non-Deadly, Injuries

[fa icon="calendar'] Nov 17, 2015 8:00:00 AM / by Deborah Lechner

In discussions about preventing workplace injuries, many of tend to categorize injuries into two types: fatal and non-fatal. On paper, the "non-deadly" injuries are the ones that occur, the claims are resolved, and the box is checked off. However, in many cases, things are not that simple in real life for the injured employee. Many workplace injuries, although not life-ending, are certainly life-altering incidents, and injured workers are left to contend with their disabling effects for the rest of their lives.

After serious musculoskeletal injuries the physical limitations, chronic pain, and stiffness often become ongoing issues. Head injuries can lead to chronic headaches and residual cognitive and/or neurological effects. Workers who have suffered amputations must learn to cope with the limitations the loss has imposed on their lives. Disabling workplace injuries affect workers' financial lives too, often reducing earning potential for life and, in many cases, creating the need  for – and expense of – ongoing medical care. Of course, these examples are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how these injuries can affect workers' quality-of-life over the long-term.

Amputations rank high on the list of life-altering injuries and are most often related to industrial machinery. A recent OSHA enforcement report illustrates such an incident. A printing press operator at Bancroft Bags Inc., a Louisiana manufacturer of bags for pet foods and other products, sustained a life-altering injury from the printing press. As he attempted to remove a gear from the machine, his hand was pulled into the gear assembly, amputating his index finger. An OSHA investigation found 16 serious safety violations in this workplace related to failures to guard machinery and implement appropriate shut down procedures, resulting in fines totaling $84,000.

In regards to this case, Dorinda Folse, OSHA's area director in Baton Rouge said:

"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.”

So what do employers need to know about preventing workplace injuries that are non-deadly, but life-altering? Fact is, there is no magic bullet that will prevent them all, but you can reduce risk in your workplace dramatically through a series of relatively small but significant safety measures.

These measures may include proper machine guarding, which is crucial to preventing these injuries, as is keeping access to emergency stop buttons free and clear. Ensuring that your workplace has safe clearance aisles, landing decks, and doors reduces risk. Require seatbelt use in forklifts since these machines can present a hazard for crush injuries, which can then lead to amputations and other serious injuries. Proper fall protection, including guard rails in areas that present a fall hazard, is also important for protecting employees working at elevated heights.

Lastly, regular, effective safety training is essential to ensuring that employees are aware of potential hazards in the workplace and understand how to mitigate those risks. After all, implementing safety precautions cannot offer optimal protection to workers who do not comply by following established safety protocols and using required safety equipment effectively and consistently. Prioritizing safety training helps make sure that your workers are well-educated on the crucial role they can play in preventing workplace injuries.

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Topics: Workplace Safety, Injury Prevention

Deborah Lechner

Written by Deborah Lechner

Deborah Lechner, ErgoScience President, combines an extensive research background with 25-plus years of clinical experience. Under her leadership, ErgoScience continues to use the science of work to improve workplace safety, productivity and profitability.