FOUR-FINGER DISCOUNT? - Preventable mishaps 'stealing' digits at record clip in FY 2013

  • Published
  • By Tim Barela
  • Torch Magazine
Air Force workers have been losing fingers at a clip that hasn't been seen in the past decade.

In less than a three-month timespan, from Oct. 15 to Jan. 7, Airmen have severed a thumb, two index fingers, two middle fingers, a ring finger and a pinky.

"If we kept up a pace like that, we'd end up with about 28 lost digits by the end of the fiscal year," said Robbie Bogard, Air Education and Training Command Ground Safety Division. "That's nearly double anything we've seen in the past 10 years."

The manner in which Airmen have amputated their appendages has been varied.

"We have managed to find seven different ways to lose a finger this year," Bogard said. "From table saws and winches, to doors and motorcycles, we've been seeing a bit of everything."

That's not to say the mishaps don't have a common theme.

"In virtually every case, the amputation happened after someone let their guard down and maybe had a lapse in attention, got complacent and ignored some basic safety rules," Bogard said.

He added that the scariest part is "we are just entering the time of year when activities begin to pick up as the weather warms and people start doing their spring cleaning."

Table saws have accounted for nearly a third of the 94 severed fingers Air Force members have suffered during the past decade, according to Air Force Safety Center accident data.


"Anybody can go to Lowes or Home Depot and pick up a table saw," Bogard said. "They might even get 'man points' with their friends and neighbors, a la Tim 'the Tool Man' Taylor. But previous mishap investigations show a lot of people don't sit down and read the owner's manual. As a result, they don't adjust the safety guard to work as designed. Instead, they get frustrated when the guard gets in their way and simply remove it. It's not hard to connect the dots after that."

Bogard said table saws are one thing, but people tend to lose fingers doing normal everyday tasks, such as closing windows and doors, mowing lawns, shredding paper or snagging wedding rings while falling from ladders, to name a few.

"As we enter the spring and summer months, people need to ensure they don't get too complacent," he said. "They also need to read and pay heed to the cautions and warnings on the equipment they use -- they are designed to help you keep all your fingers."