Jobs with the highest crush injury risk and how to receive compensation
Many different situations can lead to workers being injured on the job in Georgia. The type of job someone holds largely dictates what dangers they face.
While some workers face relatively minor injuries that may only cause a temporary setback, others face more severe injuries that can have life-altering effects. Crush injuries are one of these more severe types of workplace accident injuries.
What is a crush injury?
“Caught-in” or “struck-by” injuries both fall under the broader umbrella of crush injuries. Caught-in injuries result from a worker’s entire body, specific body parts or a combination becoming stuck in an object or lodged between objects. Struck-by injuries occur when an object collides with someone.
Which employees are most at risk for suffering crush injuries at work?
Employees are most at risk for suffering crush injuries if they:
- Work around heavy equipment, such as excavators, tractor-trailers or forklifts
- Operate machinery with moving parts without guards on them
- Work around building or construction materials, including lumber, rocks or dirt
Occupations with the highest risk of crush injuries include:
- Warehouse workers
- Manufacturing workers
- Delivery services workers
- Tractor-trailer transportation workers
- Building or landscaping materials sales workers
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data reported that at least 93 workers died from crush injuries in 2020.
What are the most common causes of crush injuries?
Various factors leave workers vulnerable to suffering crush injuries such as:
- Unsecured loads: Truck loaders and unloaders are at risk of getting struck in the head by improperly stacked or strapped items, especially if these items shift in transit.
- Heavy loads: Construction and trench workers are at risk of having a load of grain or dirt dropped on top of them if a truck driver doesn’t verify that no one is within proximity before unloading.
- Machinery with moving parts: Anyone working around or with certain machines is vulnerable to getting a body part caught in that machine.
- Moving vehicles or forklifts: Warehouse workers run the risk of an improperly trained forklift operator or unobservant trucker colliding into them, causing them to become trapped between the vehicle and a wall or other stationary object.
- Inadequate tool tethering: Construction workers working at elevated heights can lose their handle on tools, causing them to drop onto a worker below.
What dangers are associated with crush injuries?
Data compiled by the American College of Emergency Physicians shows that the breakdown of body parts affected by crush injuries are as follows:
- 9 percent torso
- 10 percent upper limbs
- 74 percent lower limbs
Employees who suffer a caught-in crush injury may experience a sudden increase in pressure along their compressed body parts. The longer the compression lingers, the more likely they will experience:
- Internal organ damage
- An irreversible dying off of muscle tissues
- Kidney failure
- Excess production of calcium or lactic acid by their muscles, resulting in a metabolic disorder
- Hypotension and shock
Workers who suffer struck-in accidents may need to have their limbs amputated due to severe blood loss, nerve damage and disfigurement.
Employees who suffer a struck-by crush injury may be left with blunt force trauma and brain damage.
If you or another worker experiences a crush injury at work, seek immediate medical treatment. This is imperative to ensure that there isn’t any internal bleeding or organ damage.
Crush injuries versus crush syndrome
Crush injuries and crush syndrome may sound like the same thing, but there are distinct differences. Here’s what you need to know.
A crush injury refers to the physical damage that occurs directly at the site of the traumatic impact, where a part of the body has been subjected to a high degree of force or pressure, often by being squeezed between 2 heavy objects.
Injuries from crushing impacts can result in:
- Immediate localized swelling and pain
A crush injury may be relatively minor, localized or severe, requiring immediate medical attention. But it doesn’t necessarily lead to crush syndrome.
Crush syndrome, on the other hand, is a systemic condition resulting from crush injuries, particularly when the injury affects a large muscle and is sustained for a prolonged period.
Here’s what typically happens:
1. Muscle breakdown. Muscle cells break down, releasing intracellular contents like myoglobin, potassium and phosphorus into the bloodstream.
Example: Crush syndrome resulting from a heavy machinery accident at a construction site
Imagine a construction worker is working near a heavy piece of machinery, such as a hydraulic excavator. Due to a malfunction or operator error, the excavator’s arm swings and pins the worker’s leg against a wall. The immense pressure exerted on their leg leads to a significant crush injury.
As the muscle cells in the leg become compressed and deprived of oxygen and nutrients, they begin to break down in a process known as rhabdomyolysis. This breakdown results in the release of intracellular contents, including:
Myoglobin. A protein that can cause kidney damage when released into the bloodstream.
Potassium. An electrolyte that, at high levels, can lead to dangerous heart arrhythmias.
Phosphorus. Another electrolyte that can cause imbalances in the body, leading to further complications.
Even after the worker is extricated and the immediate crush injury is treated, these released substances can cause systemic issues known as crush syndrome.
The condition might necessitate aggressive medical interventions, such as intravenous fluids, medications to manage electrolyte imbalances, and possibly dialysis to support the kidneys.
This example illustrates how a seemingly localized injury at a workplace can lead to complex systemic problems due to muscle breakdown, emphasizing the importance of prompt medical care and appropriate safety measures in industrial settings.
2. Systemic effects. These substances can have systemic effects, leading to complications like acute kidney injury, hyperkalemia, and metabolic acidosis.
3. Potential for delayed onset. The systemic effects may not become apparent immediately after the crush injury and may only manifest hours or even days later.
4. Reperfusion injury. Relief of the pressure and the restoration of blood flow may exacerbate the release of toxic substances, leading to additional systemic effects.
Localized physical damage resulting from a crushing force.
A systemic condition that may occur following crush injuries, characterized by muscle breakdown and the release of toxic substances into circulation, leading to potentially life-threatening complications.
Treatment of a crush injury focuses on managing the local damage. In contrast, treatment for crush syndrome requires a more complex and systemic approach, often involving aggressive fluid resuscitation, electrolyte management, and possible dialysis.
Crush syndrome in work-related injuries
Crush syndrome can occur after many types of accidents, but it’s most commonly seen in industrial and vehicle accidents:
- Machinery malfunction. Workers in industrial settings might be at risk if heavy machinery malfunctions or is improperly used. Compression or crushing forces can be applied to limbs or other body parts.
- Collapse of structures. In construction or mining, structures may collapse, trapping workers underneath, leading to the compression of large muscle masses.
- Entrapment. In a severe motor vehicle accident while on the job, occupants can be trapped, with limbs or other body parts under sustained pressure.
- Extrication challenges. Delayed or difficult extrication from the vehicle may prolong the pressure on the body parts, exacerbating the condition.
Prevention and safety measures in the workplace
Below are some tips for preventing crush injuries at work:
- Training and education. Ensuring workers are trained to use machinery properly and understand safety procedures can reduce the risk.
- Safety equipment. Providing appropriate safety equipment and ensuring it’s properly maintained will help decrease the likelihood of machine malfunctions and worker injuries.
- Emergency response plans. Having an effective and practiced emergency response plan can facilitate rapid medical intervention if an accident occurs.
Inadequate training can have serious consequences for employees and employers, potentially leading to severe injuries like crush injuries and crush syndrome, as well as diminished workplace morale and high employee turnover.
How to obtain workers’ comp for crush injuries and crush syndrome if you’re injured on the job in Georgia
Georgia employers have a responsibility to maintain their equipment and create and enforce safety rules in order to keep their employees safe. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has guidelines that all industries and companies must follow in order to eliminate obvious workplace hazards.
If you believe your employer is ignoring their responsibility to keep their workers safe, be sure to follow the appropriate steps to report unsafe working conditions.
Under Georgia workers’ compensation laws, most injured workers qualify for workers’ comp benefits to cover medical care and a portion of their lost wages (generally two-thirds of their average weekly wage).
Workers are entitled to a weekly check that covers these lost wages regardless of whether their injury is permanent or temporary. The maximum payment varies depending on the type of disability—temporary total disability (TTD), temporary partial disability (TPD), or permanent partial disability (PPD)—and when the injury occurred.
Georgia workers may be entitled to a lump sum settlement too. If a defective product resulted in your injuries, a 3rd-party lawsuit might also be an option.
It’s critical that you discuss your case with a workers’ compensation attorney to learn what legal options are available in your case.
At Gerber & Holder Workers’ Compensation Attorneys, we’ve been fighting for injured workers in the state of Georgia for more than 75 years. Insurance companies have skilled attorneys working for them, and so should you. Our experienced workers’ comp attorneys can evaluate your case and devise an individualized plan based on your situation. Contact us today for your free, no-obligation consultation.
Sullivan, M., & Anderson, J. (2017). Trauma Care Manual, 2nd edition. CRC Press.
Tintinalli, J.E., Stapczynski, J., Ma, O.J., Yealy, D.M., Meckler, G.D., Cline, D.M. (2015). Tintinalli’s Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide, 8th edition. McGraw Hill Professional.
United States Department of Labor. (2016). Law and Regulations | Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Osha.gov. https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs