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The Risk of Crush Injuries in New York Workplaces

Fatal caught-between and compressed-by accidents are on the rise

Every day, powerful machinery and industrial equipment assist employees in getting their work done, but these machines can also be hazards for crush injuries. Although safety standards exist to prevent caught-between and compressed-by accidents, the number of work accidents resulting in fatal crush injuries has increased by more than 30 percent in four years.

In 2018, there were 108 worker deaths due to caught-in (or compressed-by) accidents, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2021, the most recent data available, there were 143 such fatalities.

In New York alone, about 30 workers are killed each year in accidents involving machinery, with hundreds more injured. Amid the rise in occupational crush injuries, it is important for workers to understand crush injury risks as well as their right to financial compensation should they become injured.

What is a crush injury?

“Crush injury” is an umbrella term for tissue damage, bone fractures, amputations, and other damage caused by the compression or entrapment of body parts between objects or surfaces. In New York, work-related crush injuries are often the result of accidents involving heavy machinery, rotating equipment, motor vehicles, or collapsing structures and cave-ins. Types of equipment and machinery that pose the greatest risk for crush injuries include:

  • Hydraulic arms
  • Cranes
  • Skid steer loaders
  • Excavators
  • Motor vehicles, especially semis, forklifts, PITs
  • Aerial lifts
  • Conveyor belts, rollers, and lathes
  • Power presses and drill presses
  • Blanker machines
  • Hoppers and balers
  • Cement mixers

Occupations and industries most at risk

  • Trade, transportation, and utilities – Warehouse workers, forklift operators, truck drivers, material handlers
  • Construction – Laborers, heavy equipment and crane operators, demolition workers, excavators
  • Natural resources and mining – Drillers, industrial equipment operators, blasting technicians
  • Manufacturing – Machine operators, assembly line workers, maintenance technicians, mechanics, welders
  • Civil service – Public works employees, firefighters, water department technicians
  • Leisure and hospitality – Food service and hotel workers, event coordinators, stagehands

Types of crush accidents

Crushing accidents typically involve one of three motions – rotating, reciprocating, or transversing. The specific parts of a machine that are most hazardous to workers include belts, gears, shafts, pulleys, spindles, drums, sprockets, flywheels, and chains. Crush injuries can be caused by many types of accidents such as:

Crush accidents are preventable. Key contributing factors include unguarded machinery, defective equipment, poor maintenance, and failure to follow tagout/lockout procedures. Lack of training and supervision can also increase the risk of a crush injury.

It’s essential for workplaces to prioritize safety measures, provide proper training, and implement preventive measures to minimize the risk of caught-by accidents and associated crushing injuries. This includes the use of guarding on machinery, employee training on safe work practices, and the implementation of effective safety protocols.

Tips to prevent crush injuries at work

In New York and across the U.S., employers are legally required to take measures to prevent workers from being pinned between equipment or caught in machinery. However, whether a company prioritizes safety or not, heavy equipment will always pose some risk to workers. Here are some things workers can do to avoid crushing hazards:

  • Never remove machine guards unless lockout/tagout procedures have been implemented.
  • Always shut down equipment before doing repairs.
  • Do not wear loose clothing or jewelry when working around revolving spindles, drums, or drive shafts.
  • Train new employees on the hazards of the job, including regular equipment overviews that demonstrate where pinch, shear, wrap, and crush points, and pull-in areas are located.
  • Take extra caution when working around equipment that uses belts/pulleys, chains/sprockets, or PTO shafts.
  • Never work under equipment supported only by a jack. Use a secondary support device.
  • Use cylinder safety locks on equipment that support hydraulic cylinders.
  • Always leave an escape route to prevent being pinned between two objects.

Types of crush injuries

Crush injuries can have life-altering or life-threatening consequences for workers. The impact of crush injuries includes:

  • Soft-tissue damage
  • Bone fractures and dislocation
  • Amputation
  • Crush syndrome (damaged muscles release toxins)
  • Internal organ damage
  • Nerve damage and paralysis
  • Asphyxiation

Too many crush injuries prove to be fatal. Surviving workers may be unable to work or have permanent, disabling injuries such as lost limbs. Treatment often involves surgery, physical therapy, and long-term care. This is why injured workers need to know their rights.

Compensation options for workers with crush injuries

A crush injury can profoundly affect a worker’s life, physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially. The physical repercussions can drastically alter daily activities and work-related tasks. There is also financial strain due to the high cost of medical treatments, rehabilitation, and potential loss of income. Career opportunities may be limited. The emotional toll, including depression and post-traumatic stress, may strain relationships and contribute to social isolation, as well.

Fortunately, with very few exceptions, injured workers in New York are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Workers compensation insurance covers the full cost of reasonable and necessary medical care for a work injury, with no co-pays or deductibles. Injured workers can also recover two-thirds of their average weekly wage while they are unable to work. And if a crush injury results in permanent damage, workers may be eligible for schedule loss of use (SLU) or non-schedule loss of use (NSLU) benefits, depending on the body part(s) injured and the extent of those injuries.

After a fatal work accident, “survival” benefits may be available to the victim’s family.

Some workers are eligible to file a third-party personal injury lawsuit seeking additional compensation for losses such as pain and suffering. For example, this may be an option if the crush accident was caused by defective equipment or the negligence of a subcontractor. Injured workers can learn about the legal options available in their specific situations by contacting a trusted NYC workers’ compensation lawyer for a free case evaluation.

Contact a NYC workers’ compensation lawyer

Workers injured on the job should immediately notify their employer or supervisor to begin the workers’ compensation application process. They should also contact an attorney as soon as possible to protect their rights and legal options. Obtaining the workers’ compensation benefits you’re entitled to in New York can often be much more complicated than expected. Even if you know you are eligible to get such benefits, that doesn’t mean you will automatically receive them.

Our New York City workers’ compensation lawyers at Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano LLP understand the obstacles people often encounter when trying to obtain workers’ comp benefits. If you sustained a work-related crush injury, we can help. Contact us and schedule a free case evaluation with one of our experienced New York workers’ compensation attorneys.

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