You need your hands for most common activities, especially at work, so preventing hand injuries is something to keep front of mind. Unfortunately, hand safety is often overlooked and hand and finger injuries in the workplace continue to be common.
The Why: Hand Injury Prevention Matters
An August 2018 article in Occupational Health & Safety states that, “according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), more than 1 million workers are sent to the emergency room each year because of serious hand injuries.” One million is a good case for better hand injury prevention.
Prevention also matters because it works: with the right approach, hand injuries are almost completely avoidable. The National Safety Council has these strong words about prevention: “Every 7 seconds, a worker is injured on the job. These numbers are staggering, and the worst part is that each one is preventable.”
So, we have a big problem and there’s a solution. Even better—the solution isn’t difficult or costly, especially when you consider the costs incurred by hand injuries.
There are direct costs like medical care, physical therapy, paid time off, and increased insurance premiums. And there are indirect costs like pain and suffering, lowered worker morale, and disruption to productivity. Consider, too, that any injury that requires medical attention will raise your Total Recordable Incident Rate.
Hand injuries are particularly important to avoid because, not only are hands critical to everyday life and work tasks, they’re hard to fix and heal. This is because they are neuromuscularly complex, involving a lot of small, intricate parts. Even a relatively small cut can cause big issues.
The What: Which Type of Hand Injury Prevention Should You Focus On?
The most common hand injuries are lacerations and punctures. These are often hand tool injuries caused by cutting tools (hint: you can lower this risk by sourcing the safest safety knives).
Other common hand and finger injuries to watch for include:
- Smashes, pinches, crushes
- Avulsions and detachments
- Abrasions and burns
- Impact from trips and falls
Several of these injuries are more likely to occur at jobs where workers are required to use hand or power tools and heavy equipment—industrial and construction environments. Most are less likely to occur in workplaces like offices. But don’t make the mistake of becoming complacent because you’re in an environment that’s perceived as less risky. Office workers who regularly use a computer are at risk for hand and wrist overuse injuries. Trips and falls are common in any workplace; they are one of the most common causes of injury year over year.
The How: How to Prevent Injuries in the Workplace
There are three primary steps to preventing hand injuries that will help in any workplace: PPE, awareness, and training.
Most hand injuries are the result of not wearing gloves or of wearing the wrong gloves for the job. Make sure workers have access to quality gloves that fit well and are right for the task. Establish a zero-tolerance policy for overlooking this safety protocol.
Awareness requires a two-pronged approach: Workers need to be aware of potential risks and how to avoid them. Additionally, they need to stay aware of their surroundings and how they’re moving through them. Common causes of workplace injuries are distraction, fatigue, or not paying attention. Encourage workers to always be aware of where they put their hands and the potential risks in their environment. Eliminate distractions or hazards like clutter.
Increase awareness and best practices with safety training. Statistics show that safety training works—frequent but short reminders like toolbox talks or safety moments keep well-being at the forefront. These refreshers are particularly important for younger or less experienced workers.
Bonus: Encourage Better Hand Health
Prevention is as much about avoiding injury as it is also about improving wellness. Be proactive by promoting hand health activities to workers. Hand, finger, and wrist stretches will reduce stiffness and improve dexterity. This three-minute video provides an excellent stretching routine:
Keeping workers’ hands safe is straightforward and simple. A consistent, focused effort on preventing hand injuries will have a big return on investment.