You wouldn’t want your employees to lose a hand at work any more than you’d want them to lose their temper, so if hand safety isn’t one of the first things that comes to mind when you think of workplace safety, you should think again. No matter what industry you’re in, hands are by far the most commonly used tool your employees have. An employee’s hands are their go-everywhere/do-everything multi-purpose tool.
So it should come as no surprise that hands are usually involved somehow when it comes to three of the most common workplace injuries: lacerations or punctures, falls, and repetitive-use injuries.
Serious injuries, especially to an employee’s hands and fingers, are painful and expensive. And the costs of a hand injury aren’t just borne by the employee who suffers it. If the injury is severe enough, the insurance company will have to cover care and treatment costs, family members will have to care for them at home, and fellow employees must pick up the slack at work. Even small cuts can mean hours, days or weeks of lost production and work time, to say nothing of the employee’s pain and aggravation.
Fortunately these types of hand and finger injuries in the workplace are pretty easy to avoid. As the Benjamin Franklin proverb goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
So what can you do to protect your employees—and, indirectly, your business—from potential hand and finger injuries? How do you ensure workers are using the best of everything, from practices to protective equipment? What are the best ways to establish and disseminate hand safety tips in the workplace?
Your workers and your business will both be much better off if you take the precautionary route by implementing some or all of the following hand safety tips, than if you don’t (in which case you’ll eventually have to deal with hand injuries).
Properly Use the Proper PPE
One of the more obvious ways to offer hand and finger protection is to require employees to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) in the form of gloves, but there are a ton of types and options—which ones should you choose? As with any other form of protective equipment, it depends on the industry, work environment, and the type of work your employees are doing. There is a wide range of hand PPE options available, such as industrial hand gloves, cut resistant gloves, chemically resistant gloves, and coated gloves. Protective eyewear, like goggles or safety glasses, may also be called for in certain circumstances.
In addition to hand protection PPE, if employees are using cutting tools or working around sharp objects, they should be adequately trained on the tools and equipment they’re using. Workers should also be reminded to use and respect equipment safety features and machine guarding, and to choose the right tools, and use them the right way, for the right job.
Hand Safety Toolbox Talks
Toolbox talks are a great opportunity to focus on particular areas of safety in the workplace, and a hand protection toolbox talk should definitely be in your regular rotation. Some hazards you’ll want to highlight, and discuss how to avoid, might include:
- Lacerations and punctures
- Pinches and crushes
- Muscle strain and overuse
- Hazardous surfaces and substances
- Hand smashes or abrasions when carrying objects
- Hand impact from a slip or trip and fall
- Reaching into machinery or other hazardous areas
If you need inspiration, or even a ready-made meeting plan to discuss hand hazards in the workplace, use our “handy” hand safety toolbox talk PDF guide. (See what we did there?)
Other Hand and Finger Safety Tips
- Keep workspace floors and surfaces neat and free of debris
- Use tools designed with safety in mind, that use quality, innovative materials
- Store tools properly, especially knives and other sharp objects
- Handle tools with care
- Clean up spills immediately
- Encourage the use of brooms, brushes, dustpans, or sweepers to clean up shavings, dust, debris, or anything else that could potentially break the skin
- Take regular breaks from repetitive tasks
- Maintain training and certification on equipment and machinery
- Specify when workers should remove jewelry, watches, etc.
Don’t Get Complacent
It’s easy to hang a hand safety poster in the break room or throw in a couple tips or reminders in your hand safety presentation, but the more common-sense the suggestion, and the more often they hear it, the less likely your employees are absorbing the message. Get them involved by offering incentives, asking for their thoughts and opinions, having them share personal experiences, and using teamwork or competition. Encourage workers to adopt a Stop-Look-Think mindset before beginning every task.
Speaking of thinking, you might find this final suggestion surprising, if not a bit eyebrow-raising: Promote mindfulness. We’re not talking about meditation and yoga and herbal teas here. When we say “mindfulness,” we simply mean being thoughtful, present and aware. An example of hand safety awareness activities you could encourage in your workplace might include setting a mindfulness timer to ring every so often, to remind employees to pause and assess their current level of focus and awareness, as well as where and how they’ve been using their hands. If they find their mind has been wandering or they’ve been operating on autopilot, the timer going off regularly will be a constant cue to bring awareness back to the task at hand.
Hand Down the Importance of Hand Safety
Cuts and lacerations are one of the most common types of workplace injury, probably because we use our hands for literally everything. But hand and finger injuries are also one of the easiest to prevent with a little focus and effort. If you ascribe a high value to the importance of hand safety, your employees will too, and the outcome will make everyone happy, hands and all.