Longstanding amputation concerns persist in plastics companies even as general safety improves
The general safety record of the plastics processing industry is improving, but an area of long concern – amputation – remains a persistent and dangerous problem.
On the positive side, the industry’s overall safety record is improving. Injury and illness rates in government data for plastics processing are roughly half what they were 15 years ago, and the rate for 2019, the most recent annual figures are available, hit a record low for the second year in a row.
But even with these gains, amputations remain a persistent problem, and some observers expect the government to continue to focus on it.
Plastics News analyzed 10 years of federal government safety data for plastics processing companies and found that amputations were by far the most common serious incidents.
For example, from 2017 to 2019, amputations of fingers and limbs accounted for 49 percent of 400 serious injuries listed on the records of the plastics processing agency. Other years in the past decade show a similar pattern, although there are some gaps in the OSHA data.
Amputations in plastics have been the focus for almost two decades. For example, a 2002 voluntary collaboration agreement between OSHA and the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., now the Plastics Industry Association, made amputation reduction an important part of their job.
And it remains a concern of the regulators to this day.
A 2019 update of OSHA’s National Priority Program on Amputation Risks put four plastics processing sectors on a list of 75 target industries. The agency based this list on safety data from 2014 to 2018. These segments are plastic pipes; Fittings; Profiles; and a large aggregate category in government data for processing various plastics.
Two attorneys working with manufacturers said companies should look to OSHA for more amputation risk scrutiny, as well as a more muscular agency in general, among those appointed by President Joe Biden.
“You will be much more assertive,” said William Wahoff, an attorney with the Steptoe & Johnson PLLC office in Columbus, Ohio. “I would like to emphasize very, very much to employers that they are looking for amputation hazards on extrusion machines and in various plastics processing machines.”
Nelva Smith, another attorney at Steptoe & Johnson, expects OSHA budgets to increase significantly and agency staff to increase.
She sees amputation incidents more likely, triggering personal inspections by OSHA, and Wahoff said he believes amputation incidents could become triggers for wider investigations.
“I think things are going back to where they were, where amputation can trigger a wall-to-wall inspection,” Wahoff said.