Hand injuries are serious: Protecting fingers and hands is important for work and quality of life. Work-related hand injuries are one of the leading reasons workers end up in the emergency room and miss work. Damage to the nerves in fingers and hands, loss of a finger, a skin burn or allergic reaction, can negatively impact the quality of work, productivity – or worse – end of career and seriously detract from one’s quality of life.
The cost of these types of injuries and illnesses to industry is estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Causes of hand injuries: How many times have employees grabbed a sharp object, touched a hot surface, felt pain on hand(s) because of how tools were gripped or twisted a wrist, come close to getting a hand or finger caught or crushed, or had skin come in contact with a chemical or caustic material? If even one time comes to mind for any of these, it is one time too many. There are many hazards on work sites that can result in a hand injury, including:
- Punctures, cuts, or lacerations – caused by contact with sharp, spiked, or jagged edges on equipment, tools, or materials.
- Crushed, fractures or amputations – caused by contact with gears, belts, wheels and rollers, falling objects, and rings, gloves or clothing getting caught and putting hand(s) in harm’s way.
- Strains, sprains, and other musculoskeletal injuries – caused by using the wrong tool for the job, or one that is too big, small, or heavy for the hand.
- Burns – caused by direct contact with a hot surface or a chemical.
- Dermatitis and other skin disorders – caused by direct contact with chemicals in products and materials.
Hand injuries account for over 30 percent of all reported injuries across various injuries. And a staggering 75 percent of these injuries result in partial or total disability.
Take a moment to think what it would be like to lose the use of your fingers or your hand. In medical circles, an injury or burn to the hand is considered “critical” because of its role in executing essential daily functions. Simple everyday tasks suddenly become complicated or even impossible.
How does the need for hand protection affect employers?
Firstly, for those employers concerned with regulatory compliance, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has two standards for hand protection. The General Industry standard is OSHA 1910.138; the Construction standard is OSHA 1926.28. Summarized, both standards state that employers are required to provide “appropriate hand protection when exposed to hazards.” The key word is appropriate.
Secondly, the costs of hand injuries can escalate quickly:
- From the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics — When cuts and lacerations of the fingers and hands are combined, the number of days-away-from work cases (approximately 110,000 annually), are second only to back strains and sprains.
- From the National Safety Council — The average direct cost of a laceration = $10,000; Stitches = $2,000 plus indirect costs, such as time away from work; Severed tendon = $70,000.
- A fracture with loss of function can exceed $100,000.
Lost time, costly expenses, and injured workers who can no longer do their job tasks — there are many reasons hand injuries are a real issue for industry.
Don’t underestimate the additional “costs” that come with injuries: the employee’s recovery, possible loss of digit or extremity function, loss of income, increased personal/family costs and financial stressors for routine recurring expenses, and changes to the injured person’s quality of life (which may be permanent).
Employees should respect the work practices and use the equipment and gloves provided by the employer. Gloves and safety procedures won’t work if they’re not used or followed. Be aware of the job tasks, equipment and materials that can create a risk for a hand injury or put skin in contact with a chemical, and know the steps that should be taken to prevent exposures and injuries.
Each hazard has its own style of protection for hands. There are 3 characteristics that are used to determine the worthiness of chemical protective clothing for our skin which includes the subset for hands: thickness, permeation rate, and time.
Many different gloves are used in the chemical industry processes due to compatibility with the “glove material of construction” and the compatibility with chemicals. Likewise, oven mitts for working around high heat welding leather’s which include long gloves and arm leathers.
Due to constant use of our hands there needs to be the ability to still maintain the fine motor skills and dexterity for doing a job safely. There are new materials out that provide more flexibility and remove potential hesitation on use by the worker.
- Always stay alert and focused on keeping hands safe – not just at the start of work or a task.
- Keep guards on machinery and power tools in place – Don’t remove or reposition them.
- Use tools and equipment designed for the work being performed and use them as instructed by the supervisor and/or the manufacturer.
- Don’t put hands or fingers near the moving parts of a power tool or equipment. Make sure machinery, equipment, and power tools are completely off before attempting to replace, clean or repair parts – follow lock-out/ tag-out procedures.
- Identify safety features on tools and equipment before use, such as emergency off switches.
- Check tools and equipment to make sure they are in proper working order before beginning a task.
- Keep hands and fingers away from sharp edges (blades, protruding nails, etc.). Never cut toward the palm of the hand.
- Select hand tools that are ergonomic for the hand (the right size, lowest weight, and have features such as grips, anti-vibration handles, handles angles that allow work without a wrist bent.)
- Wear gloves that fit the hands and are right for the work being performed – not all gloves protect against all hazards.
- Do not wear rings, other jewelry, or lose articles of clothing that could get caught on a moving object.
Spencer-SHE has been providing Safety, Health, and Environmental Compliance Guidance since 1980. Our team can assess your PPE needs and advise on preventive measures, upgrades, and improvements.
Contact us here to help you to develop and maintain a safe and healthy workforce.