Injured Woodworker Details Importance of Machine Guarding
BY CHRISTINE TORRES
Published November 20, 2017
Woodworker Mike Livasy prided himself for his wild dance moves and being the life of the job site, but these days, he’s sitting out, in pain. At age 50, Livasy knows the years of hard work have damaged his body. A workplace injury resulting from a lack of machine guarding was not properly treated when he was younger and it eventually caught up to him. After a grueling surgery in September 2017 that replaced his right hip with a synthetic, he’s hopeful he’ll be able to wind his body to Guns N Roses tunes once again.
When the fateful injury occurred, Livasy was in his 20s with three kids and no health insurance. In a small town where work was scarce, he jumped at the opportunity to earn a living as a shop assistant at a budding picture frame business. Naturally an artist, he found the woodwork to be creative and soul fulfilling. The tools he used sped up the work, but posed dangerous hazards.
“I was running a rip saw with long lumber, turning them into skinny ones,” said Livasy. The boss wanted to build his business faster, and Livasy said corners were cut often to speed production. “(The shop owner) took the guard off the saw and made us run the machine without the guard,” he said. Livasy was on one side of the room while the machine was being loaded. One board flew out and stuck in the wall, another struck Livasy in the hip.
The pain continued until the next morning. “I thought the wood had just hit me. It actually split my femur bone open. The doctor took a chunk of wood out of my hip and stitched me up.”
Despite tough regulations and fines, each year machine guarding is steadily listed at No. 8 among the top 10 OSHA violations (1,933 violations in 2017, down from 2,448 in 2016). OSHA estimates that workers who operate and maintain machinery suffer 18,000 amputations, lacerations, crushing injuries, abrasions, and more than 800 deaths per year.
The ambitious owner of the frame shop was trying to turn his small venture into a more prestigious company. He cut corners, and so did his workers, who had little or no experience in running heavy machinery. OSHA had previously visited and fined the shop a couple of times for a variety of instances. Livasy said through his years at the frame shop, other workers were also injured: tips of fingers cut off, and one woman was shot in the eye by a piece of wood while working a sander.
In hindsight, Livasy says the owner had responsibilities to his workers that were pushed aside as he strove for a booming business. He also admits his own mistakes in not taking his health and work safety more seriously at the time. Proper training, reading labels, machine guards and wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), he says, also could have helped him and his peers work safer.
“When the incident occurred, I was out of work for a week with a 2-to 3-inch incision,” he recalls. Pain management had been a struggle for Livasy. These days, life for Livasy is slower. His hip surgery was “long overdue” and was made possible through public medical care. The healing process has been long and painful.
“I was doing advanced exercises that were too much for where I was at in my healing,” he said. “I have a problem sitting and trying to lift my leg. I can’t kick forward. I can’t bend over. My leg is too tight and starting to have movement. I can bathe and dress but not too much else. I’m struggling. I can’t drive or get to the store. … I want to get my life back. That’s my plan,” he said.
Manufacturing and woodworking are generally machine intensive, these industries typically account for the largest portion (41 percent) of the deaths resulting from workers being caught in operating machinery. Livasy’s life-changing injury was the result of an unguarded sawblade. Machine guarding is meant to protect workers from point-of-operation hazards and dangers caused by ingoing nip points, rotating parts, flying chips and sparks. Point-of-operation hazards account for most violations. OSHA has several standards for machine guarding that attempt to quell the machine safety crisis. Any machine part, function or process that may cause injury must be labeled and safeguarded. Moving machine parts can cause severe workplace injuries, such as crushed fingers, amputations, burns, or blindness.
- Guards should not be fastened to moving parts or positioned near moving parts in a manner that creates a pinch point
- Guarding systems must prevent access to the hazardous area by reaching over, under, around or through the guarding system
Be a Guardian of Safety
Lack of machine safety guards and procedures contribute to multiple employee injuries nationwide each year. Companies should monitor their facilities, and review procedures and training to help protect employees from machine hazards. Although Livasy’s injuries were a symptom of general workplace dysfunction, injuries can occur in even the most safety conscious facility if there is a lack of information visible. Graphic Products specializes in premade signs for machine safety and custom machine guarding labeling, best done with a thermal transfer industrial label and sign system, such as the DuraLabel Toro. Ensure your facility's signs are in compliance with industry regulations. Download a free guide on industry best practices for labeling in accordance with OSHA and ANSI requirements.