Among industrial safety topics, how to prevent hand injuries in the workplace is a universal priority. Whether a job is performed in a standing, sitting, or mobile position, hands are the primary body part that does the work. Everyone, even employees with seniority, benefits from reviewing hand safety tips and practices.
Hand Injuries Result From More than Just Cuts
Cuts, lacerations, and punctures aren't the only types of hand injuries, which is why hand safety extends beyond the proper use of sharp tools. Sprains, fractures, and breaks resulting from falling, objects dropping, and equipment crushing bones and skin are also of concern. Fire, electrical sparks, and chemical burns, as well as exposure injuries such as frostbite and insect bites, all require protective measures.
It's also important to discuss common myths that employees believe make them impervious to injuries. This includes the idea that hand safety training is instinctual and that only certain job tasks involve risk. When discussing hand injuries in the workplace, statistics from the National Safety Council report on protecting hands are helpful. This report estimates that hand injuries, depending on their severity, can incur medical costs up to $70,000.
Ensure That Gloves Match the Job
Gloves should be central to any hand injury prevention campaign, since most workers need to wear them at all times. Employees need to understand that it's dangerous to wear gloves that don't fit properly or suit the task. These essential pieces of protective clothing are tailored to specific duties. For example, aluminized and leather gloves, suitable for welding, are not appropriate to wear in place of neoprene gloves, designed to resist chemicals.
Ask your PPE supplier for demonstrations on the different types of gloves, and how to correctly launder, dry, and care for them. This hand safety video briefly discusses gloves types and ANSI cut-resistance levels, along with other important guidelines to follow:
If you're currently using gloves in conjunction with cutting tools, keep in mind that safer cutting tools can reduce or eliminate your need for gloves. This was the case with the VOITH Ford facility in Windsor, Ontario, who eliminated Level 4 Kevlar gloves by switching to Slice® blades. Every workplace is different and safety managers must evaluate the risks, rewards, and costs of gloves for every task throughout the workplace and make sound policies based on safety trials.
Always Use Machine Guards
Staying focused, eliminating distractions, recognizing machine nip points, and knowing lockout/tagout procedures are core elements of preventing hand and finger injuries in the workplace. However, machine guards are just as vital for presses, rotating tools, chain saws, and other electrical or handheld equipment. Check that you can lubricate and maintain a tool while keeping the guard on, and that it is in perfect working condition before and after each use. Adhere to manufacturer instructions as to what type of guard, trip control, or sensing device is necessary for maximum protection. Since machines often create a noisy environment, follow OSHA's regulations for hand signals if verbal instructions are difficult to hear.
Include Additional Safety Tips When Teaching Injury Prevention in the Workplace
Along with the aforementioned precautions, there are several small yet important tips that are key to preventing hand injuries in the workplace. Review this checklist with all shifts:
- Wear gloves when sweeping debris away with hands
- Put tools away where they belong
- Never use bare hands to grab tools
- Check for flyaways or other residue on skin
- Remove jewelry that may become loose or snag on equipment
- Maintain secure footing on surfaces
Hand Injury Prevention Works When You Address It
Tasks as simple as changing drill bits, replacing utility blades, or unfolding a ladder can harm fingers. There's always going to be something that poses a danger, so make hand safety training as detailed, engaging, and memorable as possible. The more open communication you create, the more everyone works toward minimizing hazardous situations. Involve every member on your crew with creating presentations on how to prevent hand injuries in the workplace, and make this awareness part of their daily routine.