Foundations of Hand Protection

The next time someone at your facility experiences a destructive hand injury, advise all department managers of the status of the injury and the costs associated. Tie it to their bonus pay.

Face the facts: All industries have hand/finger injuries. From heavy machinery production to bakeries to general office work, one look at your yearly injury log will reveal hand injuries. Take a deep breath and start trying to work through this issue, and start from the posture that you will be reducing both the number of injuries and the severity of those injuries.

As a seasoned safety professional, I am a strong believer in improving safety continuously at any job site, and I am confident this can be achieved. Many safety pros believe in zero accidents from day one (a lofty goal). Either achievement is worth the effort and time.

Hand injuries are often preventable with some planning, training, and good management oversight. Are you ready for the challenge?

The Evaluation
You and your managers know the areas of the company where the most serious hand injuries have occurred. Amputations may have occurred from equipment not being guarded correctly. Pinch points are danger zones. All of the classic machinery carnage when hands and fingers get in the way of the business end of a machine may be before you.

The machine always wins. Are the injuries preventable? Absolutely. But decades later, we are still having the same type of injuries. What went wrong? Follow-up failed from a higher level, perhaps. After an injury such as a smashed hand, all of the paperwork is filed, the injured employee receives medical treatment, etc. -- no problems. The accident is widely discussed, reviewed by the safety committee, and general or specific recommendations are made. Then it all fades . . . until the next injury.

Include these items the next time someone at your facility experiences a destructive hand injury:

  • Advise all department managers at each meeting of the status of the injury and the costs associated. Tie it to their bonus pay. Ensure each manager or supervisor reviews the documents of every hand injury regularly to keep it fresh in their minds.
  • Educate all employees on the specifics of the accident and how to prevent it from happening again.
  • Implement real policies for the use of guarding, gloves and other PPE, the proper use of equipment, and more. Even more important are guidelines through human resources or other management in the event an employee does not use these protective measures.
  • Failure to comply with policy or other such protective measures causes many injuries. Make sure you follow up with any employee who refuses (no matter why) and document toward termination! For some offenses, where someone else will be injured (such as by removing guards), immediate termination will be necessary. Harsh? I disagree; it is necessary to protect the other employees.

Ergonomics Assessment
Whether you're working in an office environment or a woodshop, ergonomics affects every employee. Have an assessment done for the shop and processes and make the needed changes. This is a specific field, and not for the uninformed -- if necessary, hire an outsider with expertise who is empowered to make changes that will help your workforce, not just slow them down. Include your worker's compensation carrier, too, because these people often have specialists available to assist in evaluations. It's a team approach for the good of both employees and production.

PPE and First Aid
Have the needed tools on hand for protection. If the work environment is drying to employees' skin, such as from using solvents, provide barrier creams, moisturizers, etc. Provide proper gloves where needed and well-designed hand tools in sizes for all employees who are affected.

Have a first aid program that truly works. Design your first aid kits with a keen eye on hand/finger injuries with appropriate topical items and fitted bandages for employees' comfort. First aid is supposed to assist recovery, not slow it down.

Think outside the box, as well. Are your employees really aware of what types of injuries to hands/fingers that can happen at their workstations? One hidden group to train is office workers; many will have repeated small injuries, which cause lost time and small medical bills. Make sure your office workstations are set up appropriately and have the necessary tools to get the job done in a timely manner. Stress proper dress through use of a jewelry policy limiting bracelets and rings and a nail length policy. A costly injury can occur when an office worker who has extra-long artificial nails has one "bent back," tearing the nail from the cuticle. It's painful, expensive, and very preventable through setting a rule about correct length of nails in the office environment. (You do have to enforce the policy evenly plant-wide.)

Educate all employees on their work environment and the hazards. Not just once, but regularly. It's tough to keep this message fresh, but it's well worth the time. Posters, videos, and classroom lectures all work. Simple peer-to-peer discussions or toolbox talks also work well. You know your workplace; use what will work and keep it going.

Follow-up is by far the toughest area for any plant to get right. There is no end to the maintenance this program demands. Many safety folks like projects that have an end, but that's not the case here because your employees will change out over time, new processes or machines will come in, and workspaces will alter.

Hand injuries will continue. But with consistent application and follow-up, you can lessen the cost of hand injuries and the time lost because of them.

A Fundamental Building Block for Your Program
As safety professionals, we are seeing our budgets slashed to subzero, resources stripped, and employees laid off, constantly putting more workload pressure on those who are left to get the work done. Active awareness and a positive safety message will help to advance your program and reduce injury severity and frequency over time.

A fully functioning hand safety program is a fundamental building block for your comprehensive safety program. It is a tough program to keep moving, but there are things you can do for little cost, and more expensive methods that will pay for themselves in the long run. It is worth it in the long haul to prevent injuries at the workplace, which is part of the compassionate service of professional safety.


Hand Protection OHS 2010

Most facilities or job sites regularly record hand injuries. While not all injuries are 100 percent preventable, planning ahead will help to prevent them. Does your site or facility safety program consider all planned and unforeseen hazards to protect workers from potential hand and finger injuries? Do you have additional safeguards in place for planning and eliminating new hazards as they appear in the form of injuries? Is adequate medical first aid provided, as well as follow-up treatments, per your plan? The following checklist may help you evaluate your program.

Yes No As part of your general safety program, has your facility been comprehensively evaluated by a trained/knowledgeable safety professional for potential hazards from equipment or processes that would result in hand/finger injuries to workers?

Yes No Has an in-depth evaluation been done of injuries that were reported? This will help you spot trends, specific equipment/processes, or shifts where more injuries occur?

Yes No Were departmental managers included in the analysis of the injuries by location so they can "own" the injuries and costs associated?

Yes No Are new equipment and processes evaluated before implementation to ensure new injury-producing activity is avoided where possible?

Yes No Do the trend analysis cover several years and include any seasonal issue or special machinery not used routinely?

Yes No Have reviews been done for near-misses where actual injuries were not documented but could have occurred?

Yes No Are hand injuries/near-misses discussed in your safety committee meetings? Are corrective measures implemented?

Yes No Have hazards that present usual and also non-routine potential been evaluated for permanent elimination? Include unusual maintenance activities or alternative methods/processes if a specific piece of equipment is out of order.

Yes No As part of the evaluation, was each machine or process reviewed for guarding issues? Were these resolved? Is inspection routinely part of any safety inspection program?

Yes No Was the specific need for PPE documented and adequate gloves, knives, ergonomic hand tools, or other needed PPE item for hand safety ordered in correct sizes for all employees?

Yes No Are hand tools replaced when they become worn or damaged? Is there a documented reordering process for selection of replacements?

Yes No Does your first aid kit include supplies for serious hand/finger injuries? Do first aid responders know to save any amputated part and how to treat such cases until medical attention is available?

Yes No Are hazards that may occur on all shifts, processes, or equipment evaluated?

Yes No Are remote work and isolated work locations effectively evaluated to protect all employees, contractors, or visitors, such as vendors? Is there a back-up communication method in the event of a serious injury (such as an amputation?)

Yes No Do supervisors document comments/complaints from employees on specific equipment or processes if they include potential hand injuries?

Yes No Has the entire job site been evaluated for ergonomic issues? Have recommended new equipment and hand tools been put into place?

Yes No Is there a jewelry policy for employees who operate machinery? Are they aware of the hazards of wearing rings, bracelets, etc. and the potential damage such can do if caught in a machine process?

Yes No Does your facility have a nail policy? Are employees limited as to length of natural or artificial nails when operating machinery? Is this enforced regularly? This can be extremely important in hot processes where artificial nail material may melt or catch in machinery, or for sanitation issues.

Yes No If gloves are used, are correct selection methods used, and are correct sizes and inventory maintained for all employees? Are employees trained on use and disposal?

Yes No Are employees advised about proper use and disposal of gloves? If a PPE item is to be reused (such as mesh gloves for meat cutting), are proper sanitation methods used consistently?

Yes No Are PPE, hand tools, and working conditions inspected regularly for proper use, replacement, and signs of excessive wear, such as frayed grips and tears?

Remember, no checklist is a substitute for a comprehensive safety program. Use them as an additional tool when reviewing compliance.

This article originally appeared in the August 2010 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Linda J. Sherrard, MS, CSP, is Safety Consultant II with Central Prison Healthcare Complex, NCDPS in Raleigh, N.C., and is the former technical editor of OH&S.

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