Safety training time with your team is limited and precious, so you want to make the most of training tasks, like hand safety awareness activities. Focusing on mindfulness is an effective way to address many common hand injury issues because lack of mindfulness is at the root of most, if not all, hand injuries.
Here we’ll discuss what mindfulness is, as well as suggest activities you can implement in your safety training to increase hand safety mindfulness.
A Rose by Any Other Name...
For many, mindfulness smacks of being new-agey and touchy-feely. It’s right up there with gratitude lists and vision boards—something reserved for yoga classes and meditation cushions.
But telling someone to be mindful is just another way of saying “be thoughtful”, “focus”, or “pay attention!”. In Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, words synonymous with “mindful” include: aware, sensible, alert, cautious, and vigilant. Interesting for our purposes here—“alive” and “safe” are also on these lists.
While dissecting dictionary definitions might seem useless, the language you use when teaching safety—which can already be a yawner of a subject for many people—is really important. Use a word like “mindfulness” and you may get some hearty eye rolls. Or, as an American Society of Safety Professional article states: “When the word ‘mindfulness’ enters the conversation . . . some people shut down and stop listening.”
Switch your terminology with words like careful, watchful, or observant, and you may get better engagement (eventually, you can tell them you’ve been teaching them groovy mindfulness all along).
Why Is Mindfulness Important for Hand Safety?
Before moving on to specific activities for hand safety awareness, let’s pause to understand why mindfulness is important.
Lack of mindfulness is at the root of most, if not all, hand injuries. Turn this around and it follows that mindfulness is at the root of preventing hand injuries. To break it down, consider the most common types of hand injuries:
- Impact from a slip and fall
- Pinches, crushes, and smashes
- Lacerations and punctures
- Overuse injuries
- Exposure to hazardous substances and surfaces
When you think through how these injuries occur, you’ll see that being mindful can prevent them from happening. If you are aware of trip and fall hazards like slippery or uneven surfaces, or objects cluttering a walkway, you will avoid them.
When you’re using dangerous tools, you’ll be sure to wear appropriate PPE and to use proper techniques. And if you’re doing a repetitive task, you’ll be sure to make sure that your set-up is ergonomic and you stop and stretch on a regular basis to avoid overuse injuries.
Mindfulness is the key link between knowing the right actions and taking the time to do the right actions.
How Can You Teach Mindfulness?
In order to effectively teach or promote mindfulness for hand safety, consider what you’re actually asking of your workers. What you want is for them to pay attention to their surroundings and what they’re doing, and to eliminate distractions. One way to do this is to implement a “stop, look, think” approach to any task, and especially tasks that pose risks. This rather comprehensive fifteen-minute video discusses such an approach for hand safety:
From a teaching standpoint, frequently reminding workers to take this stop, look, think approach is key; return to it in safety moments to keep it front-of-mind. Educate your team about sources of distraction and how to mitigate them. Doing too many tasks at once—like talking on the phone, interacting with a screen while moving through a warehouse space, or listening through headphones while working—can lead to distraction. So can compromised mental states like fatigue and stress.
And no one can have a conversation about mindfulness without talking about the benefits of meditation. If uttering “mindfulness” generates chuckles and eye rolls from your team, meditation may elicit full-on laughter. Don’t be deterred. Meditation doesn’t have to involve cushions, incense, or chants. There are many less “woo woo” approaches that will be both helpful and accepted.
Getting workers to stop and trying mindful breathing will help them tap in to the feeling of being focused and present. And that’s what we’re after: getting workers to understand how to drop into a state of being present and aware of their surroundings. It’s all about how to get workers to focus, and even more importantly, to be able to catch themselves when they get distracted. And that takes practice.
Hand Safety Awareness Activities to Try
In order to practice mindfulness in a meaningful way, try these real-world hand safety mindfulness activities. These are easily incorporated into a toolbox talk about hand safety.
Where Are Your Hands?
Ask that workers take one hour post-talk to focus on where they put their hands and how they use and treat their hands. Have them set a timer to go off each fifteen minutes within an hour and ask that they stretch their hands for thirty seconds to a minute each time the timer rings. This helps reinforce hand awareness and has the added bonus of reminding workers how important it is to stretch their hands repeatedly throughout the day.
Set a Mindfulness Timer
Ask workers to set a timer to ring every fifteen or twenty minutes during their shift and when it rings to simply pause and assess their level of awareness. Are they distracted? Focused? Did they use the stop, look, think approach for the current task? Or are they rushing down the stairs while talking on the phone? This will help workers teach themselves to frequently check in and pay attention to their surroundings and their actions.
What Hand Safety Risks Do You See?
Ask workers, as they move from task to task, or through the workspace, to stop and take notes about what hand safety risks they see and what precautions they’re taking to prevent risks from becoming injuries. Are they wearing the appropriate hand protection before firing up a table saw? Did they notice a precariously placed object overhead and move it to a more secure location? Compare workers’ notes at the next hand safety talk.
DIY Hand Safety Activity
You get the idea now. Pair hand safety risks with mindfulness practices. The goal is to get workers paying attention to hand safety. Now you can come up with your own activity or, for more buy-in, ask workers to submit their activity ideas.
Getting workers involved in safety training is a key component of building a strong safety culture. Worker involvement helps make these tasks meaningful, since workers are more likely to propose something they personally find effective. With workers engaged, put those hand safety awareness activities to the test for improved workplace hand safety.
How can I successfully implement new safety initiatives?
How do I get buy-in from management and workers?
What’s the best way to build trust and rapport?
Should EHS be a C-Suite position?
We explore these questions and more on the Safety Labs by Slice podcast. Check us out using the links below.