Why is hand safety important? Human hands are the ultimate tools, capable of intricate and detailed work. But human stubbornness and resistance to change frequently get in the way of protecting our hands. Even when we think we're being careful, we often make decisions based on poor or incomplete information.
As with most industrial safety topics, education is a key component in hand injury prevention. And education is, as often as not, a process of unlearning bad information as much as learning good information. Looking for a place to start? Let's try laying to rest these common myths about hand safety in the workplace.
Myth: "When it comes to hand safety, I only need to worry about cuts."
Fact: There's more to hand injury prevention than just laceration protection.
Cuts are a huge portion of reported industrial injuries every year, but they're not the only hazard to mitigate when it comes to our hands. Depending on what your work day involves, and what environment you find yourself in, you can also experience fractures, chemical burns, crushing, animal or insect bites, harmful vibrations, sprains, abrasions or frostbite. The list isn't to scare anyone, but to give a clearer picture of al the risks; hand injury prevention goes beyond how to prevent cuts.
Myth: "I'm only in danger while I'm using a dangerous tool."
Fact: There are many types of hand injuries.
Of course, we need to be careful whenever we use tools, particularly when they're known to be dangerous. But many hand injuries are caused by tools that aren't typically considered dangerous, especially when the tool is the wrong size for the user, or it's used incorrectly. A knife used as a screwdriver is an accident waiting to happen, for example.
Many hand and finger injuries in the workplace aren't caused by tools at all, but by poor housekeeping. Chemical containers that are poorly sealed can open unexpectedly, sharp metal shavings can cut, and even tripping over debris can injure the hands, which are often used to break a fall.
Other than using tools properly and keeping the work environment tidy, there are a few other measures to consider in hand safety training. It's important for everyone to keep tetanus shots up to date and for healthcare workers to have Hepatitis C shots. And even for the smallest types of hand injuries, proper first aid will prevent costly and painful complications.
Myth: "Safety gloves will protect me."
Fact: Nothing can protect you all the time, and safety gloves will only help if they're used properly.
There's a lot to know about safety gloves that will increase their effectiveness. Always start with what protection you need from your gloves. Are they meant to prevent vibration injuries, lacerations, chemical burns, electrical burns or injuries from temperature extremes? Each of these applications requires a different set of features.
Remember to balance protection with dexterity. For example, a higher-level cut protection might not be warranted all the time. As cut protection levels go up, the gloves become more rigid. The risk here is that if you can't move properly, you might mishandle a tool and cause an injury. For specialty applications, it might make sense to find gloves that have higher coverage only on some areas of the hand, allowing the rest of your hand to move better.
All gloves need regular maintenance. Fabric and leather gloves must be cleaned, and all gloves must be checked for deterioration and tears. A chemical protection glove can cause more damage than no glove if even a pinhole allows the dangerous material to enter the glove undetected and stay against the skin.
As with tools, gloves need to fit the user. If they're too small, they may be ineffective as protection and if they're too big, they increase the risk of getting caught in rotating machinery.
Myth: "Hand safety training is unnecessary. Everyone knows how to prevent hand injuries in the workplace."
Fact: Most people know the basics, but being open to reminders and new ideas can save you your livelihood.
"Wear your gloves" isn't a comprehensive training strategy. It ignores hand safety tips that many people don't consider, like keeping their hands visible at all times, using push sticks to feed circular saws and poles to grab items that are out of safe reach. It also ignores how to use gloves properly, when to use gloves and which gloves to use.
Hand safety training reiterates the importance of regular safety inspections, including inspecting equipment guards and reporting any damage immediately. It teaches workers to remove rings and bracelets, how to properly remove and dispose of contaminated gloves and why working at a safe pace can save your hands. Good safety training breaks through our "just this once" thought patterns. It also teaches prevention strategies, like tendon stretches and strengthening exercises, as well as when to report sore hands so adjustments can be made before long-term strain injuries set in.
More Hand Safety Topics on Our Blog
Hand Safety Tools From The Web
These helpful resources give a general overview of hand safety:
- The National Safety Council's Hand Safety in the Workplace
- The International Association of Drilling Contractor's Hand Safety Toolkit
- The Safety Memos Video, Protect Your Hands: