Hand safety in the workplace should always be a top priority because nearly every profession requires healthy hands. Unfortunately, hand injuries remain common. If you follow best practices for hand and finger safety in the workplace, you can easily prevent these issues.
While risks differ from profession to profession, there are some injuries that plague just about any work environment. So whether you aim is to keep hands safe in the flooring profession, at an oil refinery, on a construction site, or in an office, many of the precautions look the same.
Here we focus on one area of hand safety that applies to many work environments: addressing overuse injuries.
What Is an Overuse Injury?
An overuse injury is caused by continually creating microtraumas to muscles, joints, and connective tissue to the point that they result in an injury. Think of it as a form of “death by papercuts.” One papercut isn’t a big deal, but many papercuts repeated before any of them were able to heal would be a serious problem.
Some common overuse injuries include tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, tennis elbow, and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Why Is It Important to Prevent Overuse Injuries?
These are sneaky injuries because you’ll be able to do a movement injury-free for a long time, until you can’t. The injury may come on as an ache that seems manageable but, without treatment, it can evolve into a chronic and painful injury. The only way to properly heal these kinds of injuries is to stop repeating that motion.
If doing your job necessitates a repetitive motion, and that motion results in an injury, you’ll be unable to do your job while healing. If this motion is also required in your life outside work, the injury will negatively impact your daily life, too. Add to that: repetitive stress injuries are painful, and they can become chronic or recur. Therefore prevention is critical.
Who Is at Risk of Workplace Hand Overuse Injuries?
Anyone who must complete the same task repeatedly with their hands is at risk for this type of injury. By definition, these injuries are a result of stressing the same body parts over and over. Examples of jobs that put workers at risk of overuse injuries include:
- Assembly line worker
- Construction worker
- Desk worker who regularly uses a keyboard
How Hand Tool Safety in the Workplace Reduces Risks of Overuse Injuries
Using tools that are not ergonomic is one major contributor to hand overuse injuries. When hand tools are ergonomically designed, they fit well in your hand and allow you to move naturally and comfortably. Slice designs all its tools to be ergonomic, and third-party tests prove the effectiveness of our ergonomic designs. Anecdotally, customers regularly comment that they don’t feel the same hand and forearm muscle fatigue when they use Slice tools as they do using other, less ergonomic, tools.
Ergonomics also applies to your keyboard, desk, mouse, and any other equipment that you handle or interact with. And of course, good design isn’t just for objects you use in your hands: thoughtful ergonomics is important for workplace safety in general.
Hand Safety Tips in the Workplace to Stop Repetitive Stress Issues Before They Start
You can greatly reduce the chance of repetitive stress injuries with a few precautions. A critical first step for hand safety at work is to make sure you’re positioned and moving correctly. You should always make sure you sit, stand, and move in ways that feel natural and don’t cause you to contort your body or twist awkwardly. This is especially true of motions that you have to do frequently.
Additional hand safety tips in the workplace for reducing overuse injuries include following the three S’s: switch, stretch, and strengthen. Here’s a closer look.
Switch, as in switch things up: “To avoid the repetition that leads to overworked muscles and joints, incorporate a bunch of different movements into your day,” says Ian McMahan in a 2017 Outside magazine article. “Sit, stand, walk, stretch—whatever you do, just move regularly.” The important takeaways are to continue moving and to move in a variety of ways throughout the days.
Remember that hand overuse injuries can start in the forearms and wrists, so in addition to moving your hands, focus on moving arms and wrists, as well. Incorporate movements that are the opposite of the repetitive movements you do at work. For instance, if you type a lot, which puts your fingers in a flexed position, be sure to extend your fingers occasionally.
When we think about working out, we almost never consider pumping up our hands, wrists, and forearms. Then we go to open a jar or hang from the monkey bars when playing with our kids and, Wow!, we realize how little strength we have in those parts of our body. These weaknesses make us prone to repetitive stress injuries.
WebMD offers 10 hand strengthening exercises you can do anywhere. For example, squeeze a tennis ball firmly for several seconds and release. Do this 10 to 15 times, 3 times per week. Try out all 10 of these exercises or seek others that work for you. Incorporate them into your regular routine to gradually build hand strength.
Of course, as with any new exercises, be sure to not overdo it, and schedule in rest between sessions. Consider working with a personal trainer for guidance and suggestions. Not only will you be able to stave off overuse injuries, you’ll be the hero in your home when you’re the one who can remove that stuck peanut butter jar lid.
Stretching and maintaining or increasing range of motion are paramount for total health and wellness. When you can move freely, you’ll feel better and avoid injuries. To keep hands healthy, stretch your fingers, wrists, and forearms. These two simple wrist stretches are excellent:
Check out the excellent video on stretching hands, wrists, and fingers in our blog post “Preventing Hand Injuries at Work,” where we explore the why, what, and how of general hand safety.
Buck Workplace Hand Injury Trends
Hand overuse injuries remain common in the workplace, but awareness and applying these simple tips will reduce, if not eliminate, your chances of injury. The greatest benefit of paying attention to overuse as part of hand safety in the workplace is that you remain healthy and pain-free—and you’ll be the “hero of the house” for opening those pesky stuck jars.