We discuss hand injuries in the workplace a lot in this blog. That’s because hands are critical for being able to work at your full capacity. Just about every job requires you to use your hands. You also need healthy hands to perform most common daily tasks.

Another reason we focus on hands: when you research hands injuries in the workplace, statistics (unfortunately) continue to show that they’re far too common. So what can you do?

There are many helpful tactics for how to prevent hand injuries in the workplace. Results prove that training and developing a strong safety culture are effective. These include a consistent focus on hand injury prevention with activities like hand safety toolbox talks. Provide PPE—in this case gloves—and set up an environment that encourages workers to use it. Tips to increase glove use include providing gloves that are: cut resistant (there are several levels of cut resistance, so make sure you choose the right level), in the correct sizes for all workers, and in good working order.

Another critical tactic is to teach in new ways. This short video speaks to getting creative, and includes the tactic we suggest below:

Do Away With the Same Old, Same Old

Now you’re thinking, “But I do have a good toolbox talk, and I cover why it’s important to wear PPE.” The question here is: are you saying the same thing, in the same way, over and over? Workers who’ve heard it all before are likely to glaze over. It’s a common reaction, especially from seasoned employees. And the dangerous reality is, complacency leads to accidents. Workers who believe they know it all are more likely to overlook small details. They’ve done it a thousand times: Why should now be any different? And that’s true—until it isn’t.

To engage workers, you need to mix things up.

The Power of Role Play

Do you remember that life skills exercise (popular in many schools) where you’re assigned a raw egg and you have to take care of it for several days? This is supposed to simulate becoming a parent and clue young people into the immense responsibility that comes with taking care of a newborn.

While any actual parent knows that screaming babies are way more work than making sure you don’t break an egg, the basic premise is good: Take a day or two to imagine life “as if.” Embody—as realistically as possible—the consequences of ill-advised actions. This “lived experience” is a way to strongly connect what you’re doing now with how that choice could play out later.

A Day Without a Hand?

We’re going to apply the “egg parent” idea to hand safety: What if you injured your hand? Let’s go through a day of what it would look like if you couldn’t use this very important body part.

Begin by simulating an injury on all or some of your workers: point out what led to this happening (make the imagined injury specific to your workplace), and be specific about the resulting injury. Wrap up the “injured” hand, and have workers go about their day.

Have participants take notes about life with this injury. What hurts? What can and can’t they do? Have them document this throughout the exercise. They can use a pen and paper, or, given that their writing hand may be “injured,” use the voice recorder on a phone. This in-the-moment recording provides time for workers to stop and think about how truly challenging and painful it is to live with a compromised hand.

How to Make It Work

Some things to consider while preparing this exercise:

  • What hand injuries are most common in your workplace?
  • What is the most common reason for hand injuries in the workplace?
  • What are the safety precautions most often overlooked?
  • Which workers can you align with to ensure staff takes this seriously?
  • How long, realistically, can your scenario last? A day? One training session?
  • How will you wrap up this exercise and provide useful takeaways?

Several of these questions steer you toward making this activity realistic. The more “real” the experience, the greater the chances that the exercise will have its intended effect: embedding the importance of hand safety in your workers’ consciousness. When you’re looking for how to reduce hand injuries in the workplace, a lived experience is far more powerful than telling people what to do.

A key component to simulating reality is taking this exercise seriously. Because role playing by definition is a fancy way of saying “pretending,” (which makes many adults feel awkward) these sorts of exercises have a way of devolving into time-wasting, joke-filled situations. Who are the natural leaders and influencers in your workforce? Get them on board to serve as examples to follow.

If possible, carry out this exercise over the course of an entire day, and ask workers to keep their bandages away from work, too—with the important distinction that they shouldn’t do this while driving. This way, participants will go through their daily tasks at least once, to get a full sense of what a hassle having a hand injury can be.
Finally, once your “day without a hand” ends, be sure to follow up—with an event, email, or newsletter—where staff can share and reflect on their experiences, using the notes they took.

How Common Are Hand Injuries in the Workplace?

Too common. So it’s important to reiterate hand safety often. What creative tactics have you used to make hand injuries in the workplace a thing of the past?