Where does the issue of hand safety at work fall on the spectrum of all the areas of concern for health and safety at work? There’s a lot that you have to monitor, report on, and strive to improve. Should you be concerned about every cut and scrape to your workers’ hands? Absolutely!
Health and Safety at Work
OSHA has standards that are fairly specific when it comes to hand safety, outlining an employer’s obligations toward their workers.
In Standard 1910.138 - Hand Protection, OSHA mandates that employers select, and require their workers to use, PPE for their workers’ hands any time they are exposed to hazards that could result in: the absorption of toxic substances, severe cuts, abrasions, punctures, chemical or thermal burns, or exposure to extreme temperatures, as specified in 1910.138(a).
An employer’s selection of the appropriate hand PPE must be based on an evaluation of the PPE’s performance in protecting workers’ hands during the tasks they must perform, the hazard conditions present, the length of time the hand PPE will be worn, and the hazards or potential hazards that have been identified, as specified in 1910.138(b).
This points to the importance of researching and using the correct type of protection. Gloves designed to protect against chemical burns will always be different than cut-resistant gloves, for example.
How often do hand injuries occur in the workplace? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than one million workers each year visit an emergency room with serious hand injuries. The average number of lost work days for hand injuries is six days. Six million work days translates to 48 million work hours, or 23,077 work years of lost time annually. That is a serious amount of work time lost to injury.
The National Safety Council has estimated the direct cost of a simple laceration at $10,000. If a tendon is severed, direct costs can exceed $70,000. Hand and finger lacerations account for more than 23 percent of workplace injuries, according to the US Department of Labor. Many of these are likely related to the use of utility knives. Learn how to choose a safety utility knife that addresses safety from many angles.
In what is, perhaps, the most startling statistic, an OSHA study revealed that nearly 71 percent of hand and arm injuries could be prevented by using the proper PPE.
Common Hand Injuries
Composed of bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons, nerves, and skin, our hands are capable of amazingly strong grip strength. They’re also our primary body part experiencing the sensation of touch. When even one component of the hand is injured, the entire hand becomes incapacitated. Here are the most common types of hand injuries:
- Avulsion fractures/Detachments
Although hand injuries are most common in workplaces in the industrial, manufacturing, and construction industries, hand injuries can occur in any type of workplace. Hand injury type and severity will differ, depending on the hazards the workers are exposed to on the job. Work environments where tools and industrial machinery are used are the most dangerous and the most likely to produce severe hand injuries.
This video shows how easily these common types of hand injuries can happen if you let your focus wander or neglect to don your hand PPE while working with dangerous tools and machinery:
Although the video may have a somewhat light-hearted component, the direct and indirect costs of any of these hand injuries are no laughing matter.
Bottom Line: Let’s Talk Costs
There are two types of costs associated with hand injuries. Direct costs are those that the employer pays, such as medical, hospital and rehab facility expenses, workers’ comp payments, and the higher insurance premiums that will be charged if accidents are commonplace.
Have you ever stopped to think where the money comes from to pay these direct costs? It comes from the company’s profits. It stands to reason, then, that a safer workplace is a more profitable workplace.
Indirect costs are a bit harder to pin down. One thing that is commonly acknowledged is that indirect costs generally outweigh direct costs by a significant margin. Conservatively, for every dollar of direct costs, there are three dollars of indirect costs associated with a workplace injury. A more realistic estimate places indirect costs at four to ten times the direct costs.
Just what are indirect costs? Here are a few examples:
- Injured worker’s time lost due to injury
- Lost earning power, especially if injury causes disability
- Lost time by supervision in investigating and documenting the worker’s injury
- Cost of training replacement worker
- Damage to machinery, property, or equipment
- Loss of, or a reduction in, productivity
- Inability to fill customer orders
- Lowered morale on injured worker’s team
In addition to these indirect costs to the injured worker, their team, or the company that can usually be quantified monetarily, the injured worker has intangible costs, in terms of pain and suffering, social stigma relative to a disfiguring injury, loss of employability or their entire career, depression, loss of self-esteem, and possibly PTSD.
Preventing Workplace Hand Injuries
The best place to start is with your expectations. Make certain that your workers all know the value you put on hand safety. Set some simple, enforceable rules, establish safe work practices, and issue the proper PPE, such as gloves, based on OSHA standard 1910.138(a) and (b).
Follow these with an ongoing training program to ensure all your workers are thoroughly familiar with the tools and equipment they’ll be using, including how to quickly shut down equipment in an emergency. Be sure your training highlights the danger points on machinery, such as pinch points or hot zones, that could cause hand injuries.
Address hand safety in every safety meeting. This doesn’t have to be elaborate. It could be a simple reminder to remove jewelry or stay focused on the job when operating dangerous equipment. Create a safety culture where your workers are comfortable coming to you with their concerns and potential hazard identifications.
Periodically review the tools that your workers are using, with an eye toward making sure they have the safest tools for the job. Don’t forget the importance of using ergonomic tools to reduce hand injuries in the workplace.
Maintaining health and safety at work is one of your primary responsibilities. Reduce the possibility of painful and costly hand injuries by giving your workers the right tools, together with the training and education they need to use those tools safely. Review the statistics presented here, and remember that hand safety at work is a sure way to boost your company’s profits.