Dismemberment, also known as amputation, occurs when a limb is severed from the rest of the body. An amputation may involve a body part as small as a toe or as large as an entire leg. Amputations can happen during an accident or afterwards, if one or more of an injured person’s limbs is damaged badly enough that the limbs must be amputated to save the injured person’s life. Amputation is also used when certain diseases, such as diabetes, cause so much damage to a person’s extremities that these must be removed.
A “traumatic amputation” occurs when an accident or injury, rather than a physician, removes a person’s body part. Traumatic amputations are far more dangerous than surgical ones because they often remove body parts by ripping or tearing, leaving a jagged wound and crushed or mangled body tissue that can bleed freely. They also rarely, if ever, occur in a sterile environment.
There are two types of traumatic amputations, according to the National Institutes of Health: total amputation and partial amputation. A partially-amputated limb is still connected to the body by the soft tissue, which may be muscles, ligaments, or tendons. Many partially-amputated body parts and some totally-amputated ones can be reattached, depending on the circumstances.
Amputations or dismemberment pose a significant risk to people who work with heavy machinery or other equipment, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The point in the machine that does the work, the parts of a machine’s power transmission, and any other moving parts all pose an injury risk to workers, including the risk of amputation or dismemberment. OSHA explains that an amputation in a workplace accident can occur in one of seven different ways:
- Rotating – when part of a machine travels in a circle, often with a chain or belt that can grab at a person’s hands or arms;
- Reciprocating – when a machine part moves back and forth very quickly, often creating a “sawing” force;
- Transversing – when a machine part like a conveyor belt moves in a straight line. The worker may have a body part pinched between the transversing part of the machine and a stationary part;
- Cutting – sawing, slicing, drilling, boring, and milling all pose the risk of a severe cut;
- Punching – when a machine part rams into material with force;
- Shearing – when a machine blade or part cuts through material pushed into it, regardless of what it is; and
- Bending – when a machine folds some part of material over.
A worker may suffer a dismemberment injury while she is operating a machine, loading or unloading materials from the machine, or maintaining or repairing a machine.
Because the risk of amputations, dismemberment, and/or crush injuries are so high for workers who use industrial equipment or machinery, several federal and state regulations govern how this equipment or machinery can be used and what safety features it must have before workers may be allowed to operate it. Common safety features include emergency stop buttons, guards that prevent operators from coming into contact with sharp or moving parts, and devices that stop certain parts of the machine or that prevent certain hazardous activities, such as preventing the machine from running while a guard is lowered.
In most states, employers who employ workers to use equipment or machinery that can injure them are also responsible for providing protective equipment, machine guards, and other safety measures that meet state and federal requirements for using the machines or equipment. Designers and manufacturers of workplace equipment are also expected to make the items as safe to use as they reasonably can, and to provide warnings when the design of the equipment can’t make the risk of dismemberment or other injuries disappear.
Nevertheless, the dismemberment risk associated with certain types of equipment is so high that most states specifically provide for dismemberment coverage in the state’s workers’ compensation laws. Some states even list specific dollar amounts of workers’ compensation to be awarded to workers who lose a limb in an accident. The amount depends on which limb or limbs the worker loses and on which side of the body. Employers may also maintain, or offer for their employees, “dismemberment insurance,” which may provide additional coverage if a worker loses a body part in a workplace or other accident.