The reports can be dry, but they still are disturbing. Using words like ``caught in or between,'' ``squeeze point action,'' and ``catch point/puncture action,'' an Occupational Safety and Health Administration printout chronicles and categorizes the last moments of nine people.
They ranged in age from 19-40, and came from all different parts of the country. But they all had one thing in common: They died working in plastics factories last year.
One woman died on her first day back at work after years as a stay-at-home mom. She was crushed by a falling mold at the Florida factory where she had just started as a temporary worker.
A 24-year-old man in Ohio was burned to death when molten plastic struck him in the face. He had been repairing an extrusion machine that had not been locked out.
At least 11 plastics processing workers were killed in the United States in 1996, according to OSHA records and news reports. OSHA records available to the public contain accounts of nine of those fatalities, while two deaths were reported in the media, but not by OSHA.
During the past five years, at least 96 plastics processing workers were killed at work, according to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, which is part of the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics. OSHA and CFOI records show:
14 plastics processing workers (out of 587,000) were killed in the United States in 1995.
24 plastics processing workers (out of 558,000) were killed in 1994.
23 plastics processing workers (out of 559,000) were killed in 1993.
24 plastics processing workers (out of 539,000) were killed in 1992.
While plastics processing is not the most-dangerous industry, between 1992 and 1994 it was more deadly to workers than manufacturing as a whole. A relatively low number of deaths in 1995 reduced plastics' overall rate to below that of manufacturing for the five years the CFOI has been collecting data. CFOI has not published fatality rates for 1996.
In 1995 there were 10 fewer deaths than the previous year, and the rate of fatalities was 2.4 per 100,000 workers. That actually is lower than the rate for manufacturing as a whole, which was 3.8 per 100,000. The number of fatalities in the plastics industry from 1992-95 averaged 21.25 per year. That translates to a rate of 3.8 deaths annually per 100,000 during the period, compared with 3.9 for manufacturing.
Throwing out the low figure from 1995 boosts the average during the three previous years to about 4.3 deaths per 100,000. For U.S. manufacturing as a whole, the fatality rate averaged 3.9 for the same period.
For all workers, the most-common cause of work-related deaths in 1995 was highway accidents, followed closely by homicide.
Plastics fatalities most often were caused by ``contact with object,'' an OSHA category that includes getting caught in machines or being crushed by a falling object.
Of the 96 plastics industry deaths identified from 1992-96, 34 were caused by ``contact with object.'' Transportation incidents accounted for 24 of the fatalities, most of which occurred within plant settings.
The St. Louis regional OSHA office started a safety pilot program in August 1996 because ``people were getting caught in machinery,'' office director Janice Barrier said. Her office's statistics show six people working in the rubber and plastics industries were killed on the job from 1989-95.
With limited resources, OSHA was looking for a way to reduce fatalities in its region overall by concentrating on machine guarding problems in the rubber and plastics industries. ``These are concrete, tangible hazards,'' Barrier said. ``It was a problem that could be solved, and that is what we're working on.''
One of the concepts of the program is to avoid OSHA inspections. Companies voluntarily attended training sessions, and have agreed to implement industry safety standards.
``This is a new approach for OSHA. We teach them to take care of themselves instead of relying on OSHA inspections.''
OSHA will be inspecting regional rubber and plastics companies that have not participated in the program, Barrier said.
While OSHA has not reached any conclusions about the overall effectiveness of the program, Barrier said she was pleased with one result. ``We haven't had a fatality yet,'' she said.