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Sawmill or Supermarket: Which Industry Has More Amputations?

by Joe Geng on October 4, 2016

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If someone asked you whether you thought sawmills or supermarkets would have more hand amputations yearly, which would you say?

If you’re anything like me, your answer would be “that’s a weirdly specific question… It has to be supermarkets because that’s the less expected answer… Or else why would you include those two options?”

And you’d be right.

lady shopping for groceries

Grocery shopping is a part of our weekly routine, but while we check items off our lists, 3.4 million Americans working in the 38,000 grocery stores across the country are facing risk of serious injury.

Since January 1, 2015 (when OSHA began requiring employers to report all severe work-related injuries), 100 severe hand injuries in supermarkets have been reported, 83 of those resulted in amputation.

In comparison, sawmills had 57 severe hand injuries, 52 of which resulted in amputation.

man using a saw at a sawmill

Though the numbers are staggering, you might not find it as surprising when you explore the factors at play:


Risky Business:

A recent OSHA Fact Sheet explored two of the major risks for supermarket amputation and injury: the food slicer and the meat grinder.

Food Slicer:

According to OSHA, “when food slicers are in use — or turned off but still energized — the top and bottom of the slicer are hazardous areas where workers’ finger and hands may contact the blade, causing serious cuts or amputations.” In 2013, at least 4,000 incidents involving meat slicers occurred that resulted in lost workdays. To prevent this from occurring, OSHA suggests:

  • Never put a hand behind the food chute guard.
  • Use a plunger to feed food into food slicer — NEVER use a hand.
  • Turn off/unplug slicer when not in use.
  • Never wipe toward the blade when cleaning slicer table.

Walk in to any grocery store and you will see someone using this machine with a hand behind the food chute, catching sliced meat/cheeses to save time. This is considered the “danger zone” because the workers’ view is obstructed by the machine and they cannot be sure where their hand is in relation to the slicer.

Meat Grinder:

butcher meat grinder

Employers need to ensure that meat grinders are retrofitted with a safeguard, according to OSHA, “in case a worker’s hand may come into contact with the point-of-operation (ie. the auger cutter area.)” Steps to prevent injury include:

  • Only use a proper plunger when feeding meat into grinders.
  • Unplug when not in use and prior to cleaning.
  • Add distances between hand and sharp edges by using a cleaning device with a handle.

In 2013, at least 4,000 incidents involving these machines occurred that resulted in lost workdays, amputations are among the most severe workplace injuries and often result in permanent disability.


Under-Educated Workforce:

Grocery stores are often the first job for high school students since it is located close to home. This industry provides youth with work experience and some spending money. However, this is an age demographic that can be most at risk. Typically, safety training occurs when the employee is still a new hire and repeated on a yearly basis.

In the United States, the Fair Labor Standards Act protects workers under the age of 18 from using power-driven meat processing machines like those mentioned above. However, this doesn’t stop teens from using the machines for what they think should be a quick task.

In September 2000, a 17-year-old in Pennsylvania, who was hired as a grocery bagger was asked by a customer to get some ground beef. Since there was none available and no one working the meat room, the teen decided to prepare the ground beef himself. While operating the grinder, some of the meat got stuck. The teen, not thinking of the hazards and untrained on the machine, reached into the grinder’s barrel, which resulted in the amputation of his hand and part of his lower right arm.

While age isn’t the only factor, young workers between the ages of 16 and 24 make up 29 percent of grocery store workforce and a lack of real world experience, can lead to higher workplace accidents.


Hand Protection:

Behind the deli counter, it’s not uncommon to see an employee using the slicer while only wearing a disposable glove — great for preventing cross-contamination but completely ineffective for cuts and lacerations. Chain-mail gloves made of stainless-steel are provided in most grocery stores for cleaning the machine yet due to the lack of comfort and donning issues, compliance may not be as high as desired.

Injury Prevention:

While researching this post, I took a trip to a few supermarkets to see what safety protocol is in place to prevent injury.

As mentioned above, employees are only wearing disposable gloves while using the slicer. For cleaning, they may use the chain mail glove but one attendant pulled an old pair of gloves out of her apron, presenting what they are more likely to wear.

“We always wear gloves,” she said. But as we’ve covered on the site before, the right level of cut resistance matters as much as wearing gloves in the first place. Our Guide to ANSI Cut Levels, suggests not using anything less than a cut level A4 glove when working in the food service industry.

The best line of defense is training. Plain and simple. Train employees to respect the machinery that they are using. In reality, there is no hand protection to prevent an accident like the one that happened to the 17-year-old boy from Pennsylvania, but incorporating hand protection into the workplace safety program can help minimize accidents.

Our S10SXB offers an impressive cut level A7 but doesn’t limit hand movement for employees working in meat processing, butchering and cleaning rotary blades.


Sure Knit Cut Resistant food industry glove


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