Amputation is one of the most serious types of workplace injury that has far reaching consequences for a worker’s life and well-being. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) reports that although accidents resulting in amputations are entirely preventable, they are still common in the United States today.
Some amputations are the result of sudden trauma to a limb and in these cases, the body part is lost violently and unexpectedly. In the best-case scenario where medical care is available immediately and the limb is in good condition, it can be surgically reattached. In less fortunate circumstances, a worker who experiences a traumatic amputation must undergo surgery to close the wound and heal the site.
Surgical amputation may be necessary in areas of the body where an accident has left the body unable to heal damaged bone or tissue. When an injured limb can no longer receive blood carrying oxygen and nutrients, the cells slowly die off and the limb loses function, resulting in the need to amputate it.
Because of the trauma it inflicts on both the body and a person’s mental health, amputation is always the last resort for medical professionals. After undergoing surgery, an amputee may need months of rehabilitation and experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It may mean the inability to earn a living afterward or earn at a lower wage than before the accident. Any kind of amputation will permanently affect a person’s quality of life.
Workers who had an amputation due to their workplace injury are not only entitled to regular workers’ compensation benefits, consisting of medical, rehabilitation, out-of-pocket costs, and wage loss compensation, but also specific loss benefits, such as a lump sum payment based on the body part amputated. At Larry Pitt & Associates, P.C., we are here to fight for your rights and help you obtain the maximum benefits you are entitled for your work-related amputation.
Amputations occur across many industries; however, they are most common in manufacturing where 2.1 amputations are reported for every 10,000 workers. In construction and agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting, where the rate is 1.4 amputations per every 10,000 workers, any worker operating in or around heavy machinery that is rotating, cutting, shearing, traversing, punching, or bending material is at risk for amputation accidents.
Common Causes of Amputations
There are many types of workplace accidents that can result in amputations including:
- Caught in/between accidents: When a worker gets caught in moving machinery, or is pinned between a moving vehicle and a stationary object, such as a forklift and a wall
- Car accidents
- Inadequate training or supervision
- Inadequate personal protective equipment
- Falling debris
- Dangerous machinery accidents
According to OSHA, amputations happen most often when dangerous machinery has not been properly guarded, or guards are missing and have not been replaced. Workers using power presses, conveyors, food slicers, meat grinders, drill presses, milling machines, power tools, trash compactors, and other dangerous machinery are all at risk for amputation accidents. The maintenance of such machinery is also extremely hazardous, cleaning, lubricating, and clearing jams from manufacturing equipment must be performed according to proper safety procedures.
Types of Amputations
Upper limb amputations can be of the following types:
- Shoulder Disarticulation: Removal of the entire arm, including shoulder blade and collarbone.
- Above Elbow Amputation: Removal of the part of the arm above the elbow.
- Elbow Disarticulation: Removal of the forearm.
- Transradial: The partial removal of the arm below the elbow joint.
- Wrist Disarticulation: Removal of the hand and wrist.
- Metacarpal Amputation: Removal of the hand leaving the wrist intact.
- Partial Hand Amputation: Removal of the fingertips, fingers, or thumbs. Amputation of the thumb leaves the person without the ability to grasp objects.
Lower limb amputations are of the following categories:
- Hemipelvectomy: Removal of the entire leg, including part of the pelvis.
- Hip Disarticulation: Removal of the entire leg up to the hip joint.
- Transfemoral Amputation: Removal of the leg above the knee.
- Transtibial Amputation: Removal of the leg below the knee. Transtibial amputation allows the person to retain function of the knee.
- Ankle Disarticulation: Removal of the foot at the ankle.
- Partial Foot Amputation: Removal of one or more toes. Amputation of any of the toes affects the ability to walk and balance.
Preventing Workplace Amputation Accidents
OSHA has strict safety standards and guidelines to protect workers from workplace amputation accidents. Employers should recognize and identify common amputation hazards so that they can be managed and controlled. They are also required to provide employee training for safety practices and procedures. The training must be in a language that the worker understands. Where necessary, employers must provide personal protective equipment, such as safety goggles, leather gloves, steel toe shoes, hard hats, and fall protection equipment.
Machinery components that can cause amputations include the point of operation, where the machine meets the material, the power train with all its moving parts, and pinch points, where two parts move together. Machines should have guards that are a physical barrier to these hazardous parts of operation. The guards should be secure, strong, and difficult to remove, tamper with, or bypass. Additionally, they must not obstruct the employee’s sightlines or prevent employees from doing their work. Safety guards should be regularly checked and kept in good repair.
Every worker has the right to a safe workplace, training about workplace hazards and how to avoid them, and the right to receive information about the OSHA standards that apply to their workplace. Workers also have the right to review records about work-related injuries and illnesses. Safety hazards at work, such as missing guards for machinery, should be reported immediately to the employer or to OSHA. Workers who believe their employer is not following OSHA rules and standards can file a complaint asking OSHA to inspect their workplace. OSHA keeps the identities of employees who file a complaint confidential. Retaliation for reporting safety concerns or an injury, or filing a claim for workers’ compensation benefits, is strictly against the law. If you think you have been retaliated against for exercising your rights, you may file a complaint with OSHA, but it must be within 30 days.
Workers’ Compensation for Amputations
In Pennsylvania, employers are required to have insurance covering workplace accidents. Workers’ compensation is a no-fault system that gives benefits to injured workers and in return, the employee gives up the right to sue the employer. The Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act provides specific loss benefits for amputees. This means that benefits are paid according to what kind of amputation was suffered by the worker per the following schedule:
- Amputation of a finger, thumb, hand, forearm, or arm
- Amputation of a toe, foot, ankle, lower leg, or leg
- Loss of hearing or sight
- Disfigurement of the face, head, or neck
Injuries that leave a body part useless, such as a crushed hand, are treated as an amputation, although an actual amputation may not be necessary. Based on the body part that was amputated, workers entitled to specific loss benefits will receive workers’ compensation payments for a certain number of weeks, as set forth in the statute. They may also receive payments for a healing period depending on the amputated body part. Pennsylvania uses a rating schedule to determine the number of weeks workers with various amputations will receive benefits.
For example, a worker who suffered a leg amputation will receive workers’ compensation benefits for a period of 410 weeks and an additional healing period of 25 weeks, whereas a worker who suffered the amputation of a second, third, or fourth toe will receive workers’ compensation benefits for 16 weeks and a six-week healing period.
The amount workers will be paid during those weeks is determined based on a rating system. The treating physician will make a rating based on several factors that include the worker’s overall health, age, and work experience, and report that rating to the workers’ compensation adjuster, who will then determine the amount of the lump sum payment.
If an employee is absent from work longer than the number of weeks allocated in the statute, employers may seek to limit payments to the predetermined specific loss period for the worker’s injury. For workers to receive payments beyond the specific loss period outlined in the statute, they must show that there is an injury separate and apart from the specific loss that is preventing them from returning to work. Always consult with an attorney before signing anything regarding a lump sum payment or settlement of your claim. You want to be sure your benefits were calculated correctly and that you are receiving the maximum allowable benefits for your situation.
Injured workers may also be entitled to additional compensation for their amputation if their workplace injury was caused by third-party negligence. Even though workers’ compensation is no-fault and compensation is not contingent upon proving negligence, when a party other than the worker’s employer negligently caused the accident, that party may be held liable under personal injury law.
Drivers, subcontractors, suppliers, vendors, property owners, and manufacturers are examples of third parties that may be held liable for a worker’s injuries. Third party claims may be filed in conjunction with workers’ compensation claims and will often result in higher amounts of compensation because damages for pain and suffering are available.
Statute of Limitations
It is important that workers adhere to the statute of limitations in both workers’ compensation and personal injury cases. In Pennsylvania, workers must notify their employers of their injury within 120 days and must file their workers’ compensation claim within three years from the date of their injury. The statute of limitations for personal injury claims is two years.
Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Larry Pitt & Associates, P.C. are Skilled in Obtaining Specific Loss Benefits
If you had an amputation due to a workplace injury, contact our skilled Philadelphia workers’ compensation lawyers at Larry Pitt & Associates, P.C. We have more than 40 years of experience handling all types of Pennsylvania workers’ compensation claims and we represent clients throughout the state. Call us at 888-PITT-LAW or complete our online contact form for a free consultation.
Our team also provides skilled representation to those residing in and around Abington, Ambler, Ardmore, Bala Cynwyd, Bensalem, Clifton Heights, Crum Lynne, Darby, Downingtown, Doylestown, Drexel Hill, Essington, Folcroft, Glenolden, Haverford, Havertown, Holmes, Kutztown, Lansdowne, Media, Merion Station, Morton, Narberth, Norristown, Norwood, Philadelphia, Prospect Park, Quakertown, Reading, Roxborough, Sharon Hill, Upper Darby, West Chester, and Wynnewood.