Hand Safety and Injury Prevention
Hand injuries happen in a flash, but their impact can last forever. Some workers lose hands; others develop an infection or need surgery. That alone is reason enough to make hand safety a priority in any workplace.
Keeping workers safe takes planning and training. Companies with good safety records not only provide the right tools for the job, they also have appropriate safeguards around sharp objects, moving parts, and automated machines.
Where Hand Safety is Most Important
More than 100,000 workers in private industry suffered hand injuries in 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Forty-three percent of those hand injuries were in three high-risk workplaces:
- One-third of hand injuries were in manufacturing.
- 3,000 workers in the natural resources and mining industry suffered hand injuries.
- 2,700 hand injuries happened in the agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting industries.
Prevention is especially important when workers use dangerous tools and machines with pinch points, rotating parts, hot and cold spots, or automation.
- Pinch points are places between two objects where a body part can get caught such as machines with two parts moving at high speeds.
- A rotating piece of equipment, such as a clutch, spindle, or fan, poses extreme danger to workers wearing rings or loose-fitting gloves. The equipment might grab loose clothing or rings and take a worker’s hand off.
- Hot spots in machinery can cause serious burns to the hands. Workers encounter hot spots in equipment like injection molders, welding instruments, burners, cutting equipment, and brazing tools.
- Cold spots pose dangers to workers handling transfer pipes in refrigeration systems. Extreme cold is equally dangerous to heat and can also cause severe burns.
- Automation is especially dangerous. If a machine is programmed to start on its own, even if it’s not currently running, it can start unexpectedly and easily catch hands if a worker is too close and not paying attention.
The most common types of hand injuries are bruises, pinches, lacerations, abrasions, strains, amputations, dislocations, carpal tunnel syndrome, and Raynaud’s disease. Recovering from an injury like a deep cut might affect a worker’s daily life for months.
Wearing a Ring Changed Robert’s Life
One of the simplest hand injury prevention tips is to require everyone to take their rings off on a job site. Take the following true story, for example. Robert Whitfield, an Air Force weapons deployment support employee, was just about to leave work on lunch break when a coworker stopped him and asked if he would check a connection up in an aircraft bay. Robert had put his wedding ring back on as he prepared to leave for lunch, but didn’t think to take it back off when his coworker asked for help.
As he jumped down from the bay after checking the connection, Robert’s ring caught on an object, severely damaging the bone and tissue and resulting in a partial amputation.
Because of Robert’s accident, new policies and training were enacted within his workplace.
However, complications from his injury drastically altered Robert’s quality of life. He had a painful recovery period and financial issues that almost caused him to lose his home. Now, 30 years later, Robert works as a corporate safety specialist, sharing his story and teaching workers how to keep their healthy hands.
Training Your Team to Avoid Potential Hazards
As Robert’s story illustrates, workers play a big role in preventing serious hand injuries. The first step in safety training is ensuring employees know the hazards involved with their jobs and how to avoid them. As a safety or training manager, your next step is putting systems in place to prevent these leading causes of serious injury:
- Human error due to distraction and complacency is common for employees using hand tools and power tools such as nail guns. Errors happen in a myriad of ways from forgetting to remove a piece of jewelry to accidentally getting too close to moving machinery. One of the most common forms of human error is forgetting, or simply choosing not to, wear protective gloves at work.
- Deactivation of safety features, or bypassing them, causes needless hand and finger injuries. Employees might find the features cumbersome or think they slow them down. Stress to workers that they must never tamper with or modify controls that give them hand protection, no matter how inconvenient they seem.
- Taking off gloves to perform a work task often results in hand injuries. For example, a worker can get frostbite by taking off his gloves in an extremely cold environment. Typically, this happens when the worker wants to complete tasks that will be more difficult with gloves on. He decides to take his gloves off for a minute or so. In extreme weather, though, a short time can be too long.
- Not following instructions leads to injuries. Sometimes, workers intentionally don’t follow safety protocols because they are bored with a routine task. Others think their job experience means they can bypass instructions.
- Distraction in the form of a wandering mind or looking away from a machine can lead to injury.
- Frustration can cause carelessness and injury.
- Bending the rules just once can cause serious injury to hands and fingers.
Communicate about the risks to workers regularly and pay close attention to morale on your job site to keep everyone positive and focused on their work.
Three Components of an Effective Safety Program
Best practices for an occupational safety program include three ways to prevent workplace hand injuries: Engineering controls, administrative controls, and PPE.
Engineering controls reduce hazards by using equipment with built-in safety systems. Common types of engineering controls include safety guards, electrical proximity limiting devices, emergency stop devices, and ergonomic tools.
- Machine guards include safety mechanisms to protect hands from sharp objects, rotating parts, and pinch points.
- Electronic proximity-limiting devices prevent a worker’s hands from getting too close to equipment. Devices include switches, sensors, and electronic beams.
- Emergency stop guards allow workers to stop a machine by pushing a button, pulling a rope, or flicking a switch to prevent injury. In some cases, blades will stop instantly when they contact soft tissue.
- Providing the right tool is a great way to prevent injuries. Ergonomic engineering controls include using tools and machines that put less strain on wrists, hands, and fingers.
Administrative controls are procedures management puts in place and are useful when engineering controls either cannot be implemented or cannot alone effectively reduce risk around a specific hazard. Administrative controls include:
- Safety training;
- Physical safety guards such as lockout tagout devices;
- Warning signs;
- Product substitutions; and
- Attention to ergonomic principles.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
When engineering and administrative controls are not feasible or sufficient, companies must provide PPE–usually meaning work gloves–to protect workers in danger of hand injuries.
The Right Gloves for the Job
When it comes to hand injury prevention techniques, the answer is simple, wear appropriate work gloves. The proper gloves keep germs and hazardous chemicals off the skin, stop splinters and slivers, resist punctures and cuts from sharp objects or materials, and protect against heat and cold.
Because loose-fitting gloves can get caught in machinery, it is critical for workers to wear gloves that fit correctly. For safety’s sake, workers need to examine their gloves for damage and wear every time they go to work and put them on.
The right safety precautions include assessing the safety gear necessary for the hazards of every job on your site. Types of gloves and their uses include:
- Heat-resistant gloves protect workers from a skin burn and heat-related discomfort.
- Metal mesh, Kevlar, and tough synthetic yarn gloves protect against cuts and punctures and are often used by those who work with knives.
- Non-conductive gloves, often referred to as rubber gloves, are worn by electricians and engineers to protect against low-voltage electricity.
- Thinner non-conductive gloves, often referred to as surgical gloves, protect the hands from blood-borne substances, as well as some chemicals and corrosives.
- Neoprene, nitrile, latex, and vinyl gloves resist petroleum products and provide chemical protection for those working with oils, acids, caustics, and solvents.
- Leather gloves resist sparks, chips, rough objects, and heat.
- Cotton fabric gloves protect against dirt, slivers, chafing, and abrasion.
- Waterproof gloves resist wet environments and are often insulated with foam to protect against cold, as well.
While over 100,000 workers suffer hand injuries per year, many of those are preventable through changing worker behavior and correct use of PPE. We can all make a meaningful difference in hand safety at our worksites, even by simply sharing this post with colleagues and managers.
Want to talk to an HSI consultant about improving worker safety at your company? Contact us today.
- Blog Post: 30 Tips for Hand and Power Tool Safety
- Online Course: Hand Safety
- Toolbox Talk: Safety Tip Video Hand Safety