Injuries and Illness

Getting ‘Caught in a Pinch’ Can Be Fatal

Having your body caught between the moving parts of a machine is both terrifying and dangerous. Here are ideas OSHA and others have provided to prevent it.

South Florida refuse collection truck mechanic Raul Figueroa was working on a truck when somehow the ram arm that lifts Dumpsters to the bin became actuated. The arm rose inexorably upward, trapping Figueroa between the cab and cargo bin. Horrified co-workers later found his body, sliced in two. Mercifully, he likely died instantly.

This tragic accident is a particularly tragic example of a “pinchpoint” or “caught-between” accident. In such events, a worker is caught between two surfaces, one usually moving with great force. The result can range from skin damage and crushed bones to amputation or death.

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Recently OSHA began a campaign against amputation accidents, most of which were pinchpoint in nature. They cited as a reason nearly 7,900 workers who’d lost a limb in 2006. About 44 percent of the accidents occurred in manufacturing, where workers’ bodies were mangled by all manner of spinning, whirring, bending, or shearing apparatuses. The rest were spread over agriculture, construction, wholesale, retail, and service businesses. There were over 59,000 reported pinchpoint injuries in all.

To prevent such accidents, safety experts first suggest workers understand that pinchpoint mishaps do not always involve machinery.

“Many workers tend to think of pinchpoint hazard in terms of unguarded equipment,” explains safety writer Dave Duncan, “but unguarded machinery is only part of the picture.”

Duncan cites other examples, including a driver who stepped from her vehicle to open a gate. The driverless vehicle then slid on an icy surface, crushing her. In another example reported by Professional Roofing, a roofer fell into the gap between scaffolding and the wall of a building. These, too, were pinchpoint tragedies.

Here’s what OSHA says are the danger zones in many machine-related pinchpoint accidents:

Point of operation, which is that part of a machine at which work is performed. A slot into which a worker inserts or removes product would be such a point of operation, as would the table on which a saw or grinder does its work.

Power transmission apparatus. Though removed from the point at which work is done, pulleys, gears, belts, chains, or other devices that move power into the machine also can snag or tangle the employees who run them, and even those just passing by.

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Other moving parts. Even if they don’t actually do work or move power, such devices as cooling fans or even revolving doors can also cause pinchpoint/caught-between injuries.

There is no specific OSHA standard relating to pinchpoint or caught-between hazards. Instead, the agency relies on protections for workers afforded by its Machinery/Machine Guarding, Hazardous Energy (Lockout/Tagout), Hand and Power Tools, Conveyors, and Concrete and Masonry Construction standards, as well as its all-purpose General Duty Clause.

The agency has some specific ideas on how you can meet these requirements. We’ll brief you on those, and on a tool that can make every safety training need easier, in tomorrow’s Safety Daily Advisor.