Hand Safety: 9 Tips to Prevent Common Hand Injuries at Work

hand safety to prevent deep cut injuries

Importance of Hand Safety

Our hands allow us to perform a wide range of tasks, from simple activities like typing to complex operations like machinery handling. Their constant use in various activities makes them particularly vulnerable to common hand injuries, especially in workplace environments.

Statistics reveal that approximately 1 million workers require emergency medical care annually due to severe hand injuries. Additionally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that hand injuries comprise nearly 23% of all workplace injuries, with over 16,000 non-fatal incidents involving the hand and wrist recorded between 2019 and 2020. Such injuries can lead to significant personal, professional, and financial impacts, affecting both the individual and the organization.

Common Causes of Hand Injuries

Understanding the common causes of hand injuries is the first step toward injury prevention. Some typical causes include:

  1. Pinch Points: Areas where two objects move close together, creating a risk of fingers being caught or pinched.
  2. Rotating Equipment: Machinery with rotating parts can entangle hands and fingers, leading to severe injuries.
  3. Hot Spots: Surfaces or tools that can cause burns upon contact.
  4. Cold Spots: Environments or tools that can lead to frostbite or other cold-related injuries.
  5. Automation: Automated systems can pose risks if not properly guarded or if workers are not adequately trained.

 

Hand Safety According to OSHA

OSHA emphasizes the importance of protecting workers' hands from injuries in the workplace through various regulations and guidelines. Here are the key points:

Hand Protection Standards (29 CFR 1910.138): OSHA requires employers to select and provide appropriate hand protection when employees are exposed to hazards such as harmful substances, severe cuts, lacerations, abrasions, punctures, chemical burns, thermal burns, and harmful temperature extremes. The selection of hand protection must be based on the specific task, conditions, and potential hazards.

General Duty Clause (Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act): This clause mandates that employers provide a workplace free from recognized hazards that could cause serious harm or death, which includes taking measures to protect workers' hands.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Requirements (29 CFR 1910.132): Employers must conduct a hazard assessment to determine the need for PPE, including gloves, and ensure that it is provided, used correctly, and maintained properly. Employees must be trained on the proper use of PPE.

OSHA's guidelines for hand safety stress the importance of:

    • Conducting thorough hazard assessments.
    • Selecting and providing suitable hand protection.
    • Training employees on the use of hand protection and safe work practices.
    • Regularly inspecting and maintaining tools, equipment, and PPE.

 

6 Common Hand Injuries in the Workplace

Hand injuries can vary in severity, from minor cuts to severe trauma that may require surgery or lead to permanent disability. Here are some of the most common hand injuries in the workplace:

  1. Lacerations: Deep cuts or tears in the skin, often caused by sharp tools, machinery, or materials. They are one of the most frequent types of hand injuries and can range from minor to severe.
  2. Punctures: Caused by objects piercing the skin, creating a small but deep wound. These injuries can be deceptive, appearing minor on the surface but potentially causing significant internal damage.
  3. Crush Injuries: Occur when a hand or finger is caught between heavy objects or machinery, leading to severe damage to bones, muscles, and tissues.
  4. Fractures: Broken bones, often resulting from high-impact accidents or falls. They can range from simple breaks that heal relatively quickly to complex fractures requiring extensive medical treatment.
  5. Burns: Result from exposure to heat, concrete, chemicals, electricity, or radiation. They can vary in severity from minor first-degree burns to severe third-degree burns that damage deeper layers of skin and tissue.
  6. Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSIs): Occur due to repetitive motions or overuse of certain muscles and tendons. They develop gradually and can lead to chronic pain and reduced functionality.

 

9 Tips to Prevent Hand Injury at Work

machine guarding for hand safety

Hand injuries are preventable with the right safety measures and practices in place. Here are 9 tips to help protect workers against common hand injuries:

1. Machine Guarding

Machine guards are physical barriers that protect workers from moving parts, flying debris, and other hazards associated with machinery. Proper guarding can prevent severe injuries, such as amputations and crush injuries.

What You Can Do:

    • Ensure all machinery is equipped with appropriate guards that cover all moving parts.
    • Regularly inspect guards to make sure they are securely in place and functioning properly.
    • Train employees on the importance of machine guards and how to recognize when guards are missing or damaged.
    • Never remove or bypass machine guards.

2. Selecting the Right Gloves for the Hazard

Gloves provide essential protection against various hazards, such as cuts, chemicals, heat, and cold. Choosing the right gloves for specific tasks can significantly reduce the risk of hand injuries.

What You Can Do:

    • Conduct a hazard assessment to identify the specific risks associated with each task.
    • Select gloves that are designed to protect against the identified hazards (e.g., cut-resistant gloves for handling sharp objects, chemical-resistant gloves for handling hazardous substances).
    • Ensure gloves fit properly and provide adequate dexterity for the task.
    • Provide training on how to select and use the appropriate gloves.

3. Proper Use, Care, and Maintenance of Gloves

Proper use and maintenance of gloves maximize their protective capabilities. Damaged or improperly used gloves can fail to protect and may even pose additional risks.

What You Can Do:

    • Train employees on how to properly wear, remove, and care for their gloves.
    • Regularly inspect gloves for signs of wear and tear, such as holes, thinning, or stiffness.
    • Replace gloves that are damaged or have reached the end of their useful life.
    • Store gloves in a clean, dry place when not in use.

4. Inspecting Tools for Damage Before Use

Using damaged tools can lead to accidents and injuries. Regular inspections help identify and address potential issues before they cause harm.

What You Can Do:

    • Establish a routine for inspecting tools and equipment before each use.
    • Look for signs of damage, such as cracks, chips, or loose parts.
    • Remove damaged tools from service and repair or replace them as necessary.
    • Train employees on how to properly inspect tools and report any issues.

5. Following Standard Operating Procedures

Adhering to established operating procedures is crucial for minimizing the risk of accidents and injuries. These procedures are designed to standardize tasks, making them safer and more efficient.

What You Can Do:

    • Develop and implement standard operating procedures (SOPs) for all tasks and equipment.
    • Train employees on the SOPs and ensure they understand the importance of following them.
    • Monitor compliance with SOPs and provide feedback and retraining as needed.
    • Update procedures regularly to reflect changes in equipment or processes.

6. Keeping the Work Area Clean and Organized

A cluttered and disorganized workspace increases the risk of accidents, including slips, trips, and falls, which can lead to hand injuries.

What You Can Do:

    • Implement a housekeeping program, such as the 5S in manufacturing, to keep work areas clean and free of clutter.
    • Ensure tools and materials are stored properly and not left lying around.
    • Use spill containment and cleanup procedures to address spills promptly.
    • Encourage employees to clean up after themselves and report any hazards they notice.

7. Proper Lifting Techniques to Avoid Strain

Incorrect lifting techniques can cause strain injuries to the hands, wrists, and other parts of the body. Proper techniques help prevent these injuries and promote overall safety.

What You Can Do:

    • Train employees on proper lifting techniques, such as lifting with the legs, not the back.
    • Encourage the use of mechanical lifting aids, such as hoists and carts, to reduce manual lifting.
    • Avoid lifting objects that are too heavy or awkward to handle alone.
    • Plan lifts in advance and ensure the path is clear of obstacles.

8. Taking Breaks to Avoid Fatigue

Fatigue can impair judgment and coordination, increasing the likelihood of accidents and injuries. Regular breaks help maintain alertness and reduce the risk of hand injuries.

What You Can Do:

    • Schedule regular breaks throughout the workday to allow employees to rest and recharge.
    • Encourage employees to take short breaks to stretch and relax their hands and wrists.
    • Monitor workloads to prevent excessive fatigue, especially during long or repetitive tasks.
    • Promote a culture that values rest and recognizes the importance of breaks for safety.

9. Lockout/Tagout Procedures for Machinery

Lockout/Tagout (LOTO) procedures ensure that machinery is properly shut down and cannot be restarted until maintenance or repairs are complete, preventing accidental startups that could cause severe hand injuries.

What You Can Do:

    • Develop and implement a detailed LOTO program for all machinery and equipment.
    • Provide comprehensive training for employees on LOTO procedures, including how to properly apply and remove padlocks and tags.
    • Regularly audit the LOTO program to maintain compliance and address any gaps.
    • Foster a culture of safety where all employees understand the critical role of LOTO procedures and adhere to them consistently.

 

Toolbox Talks for Hand Safety

Regular toolbox talks can significantly enhance hand safety awareness and practices in the workplace. Key discussion topics include proper glove selection and use, recognizing and avoiding pinch points, safe use of hand tools, understanding and preventing repetitive strain injuries, machine guarding and safety procedures, handling chemicals safely, emergency response for hand injuries, the importance of good housekeeping, and safe lifting techniques.

By covering these areas, employees can learn practical steps to protect their hands from injuries. These talks help foster a culture of safety and reduce the risk of hand injuries.

 

Hand Safety FAQs

What is the main cause of hand injuries?

The main cause of hand injuries is contact with machinery or tools, often due to inadequate guarding, improper use, or lack of proper personal protective equipment (PPE).

What are hands-free tools?

Hands-free tools are devices designed to perform tasks without the need for direct hand contact, reducing the risk of hand injuries. Examples include push sticks, magnetic holders, and remote-operated tools.

What are the basic rules for hand safety?

Basic rules for hand safety include using appropriate PPE like gloves, following proper operating procedures, maintaining a clean and organized work area, inspecting tools before use, and adhering to machine guarding requirements.

What is PPE for hand safety?

PPE for hand safety includes various types of gloves designed to protect against specific hazards such as cuts, chemicals, heat, and cold. Other protective gear might include finger guards, barrier creams, and wrist supports.

What is proper use of gloves?

Proper use of gloves involves selecting the right type for the specific hazard, ensuring a good fit, regularly inspecting for damage, replacing them when necessary, and following correct procedures for donning and doffing to avoid contamination or injury.

The material provided in this article is for general information purposes only. It is not intended to replace professional/legal advice or substitute government regulations, industry standards, or other requirements specific to any business/activity. While we made sure to provide accurate and reliable information, we make no representation that the details or sources are up-to-date, complete or remain available. Readers should consult with an industrial safety expert, qualified professional, or attorney for any specific concerns and questions.

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Author: Herbert Post

Born in the Philadelphia area and raised in Houston by a family who was predominately employed in heavy manufacturing. Herb took a liking to factory processes and later safety compliance where he has spent the last 13 years facilitating best practices and teaching updated regulations. He is married with two children and a St Bernard named Jose. Herb is a self-described compliance geek. When he isn’t studying safety reports and regulatory interpretations he enjoys racquetball and watching his favorite football team, the Dallas Cowboys.