Construction sites and industrial workplaces regularly put workers’ hands at risk of injury. For coating professionals, chemical exposure, lacerations, and hand smashes are particularly big risks. Those risks result in too many injuries. As cited by the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) in a recent post on CoatingsPro, “Of the 286,150 nonfatal occupational injuries to upper extremities in 2017 involving days away from work in private industry, 121,860 involved hands, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported.”
Enough gloom. Here’s the upside: Most — if not all — of these injuries are preventable.
Why Focus on Hands?
Hands are on the front lines of physical labor, so they’re regularly in harm’s way. And coating professionals can’t do their jobs without healthy hands. Those two palms and ten digits are crucial for effective, efficient work. Keeping hands safe needs to be a top priority.
Consider, too, that repairing and healing a hand can quickly become a complex, long process. Hands, fingers, and wrists involve an intricate interplay of many small moving parts that, if disrupted, are very difficult to mend. Hands are involved in fine motor movements, so restoring them to full functionality may take days, weeks, or months of diligent physical therapy.
For the worker, hand injuries can mean suffering pain, the inability or reduced ability to work, surgery and rehab, mental and emotional strain from being injured, and daily inconveniences outside work. For the employer, a hand injury could lead to hospital and ongoing physical therapy costs, workers’ comp, increased insurance rates, disrupted workflow, training and hiring a temporary or permanent replacement worker, decreased worker morale, and a higher Total Recordable Incident Rate.
The consequences of hand injuries are serious and often prolonged. The benefits of prevention, on the other hand, are tremendous. Let’s create a zero-hand-injury workplace now with five easy ways to prevent hand injuries.
1. Wear PPE
Wearing gloves is non-negotiable when it comes to hand safety. Most hand injuries are preventable with the correct gloves. Some gloves prevent impact injuries, others are for laceration protection, while still others work to guard against chemical burns. Know your gloves and the level of protection they offer. Provide your staff with the types of gloves they need.
Gloves must fit well. A common complaint from workers is that gloves are uncomfortable and impair dexterity. Ill-fitting gloves can cause more risks than they prevent. Make sure gloves fit well and don’t inhibit movement. And gloves, like all equipment, must always be in good working order.
Beyond that, enact a no-tolerance policy around not wearing personal protective equipment (PPE). This is an easy precaution to follow, and there are no excuses for dismissing it.
2. Use Safe, Well-Maintained Equipment and Tools
Making sure your workers have the safest equipment and that it is always in good working order will greatly reduce risks of injury. Never allow workers to use tools that are altered or jury-rigged. Any equipment that isn’t working perfectly must be put out of commission until it’s fixed. And workers must always use safety guards when possible.
Set up a maintenance schedule for equipment and tools. And periodically check to see if there are safer options for the tools and equipment your employees are currently using. For instance, do your workers have the best safety knife available? Keep up to date on innovations in design and materials to ensure that your workers have access to the safest items on the market.
3. Stretch, Strengthen, and Go Ergo
Many workers are tasked with doing the same types of movements repeatedly, and overuse-strain injuries are common in the workplace. To prevent these types of injuries, workers must be certain not to overtax their hands, wrists, and forearms day in and day out. Staff will benefit from stretching hands, fingers, and wrists before and after work, and once or twice an hour.
Make sure your workers do movements that are the opposite of those required by whatever repeated task they’re doing. Encourage employees to do hand strengthening exercises two or three times a week to keep hands strong and able to endure long periods of work without fatiguing.
Check that tools and equipment are well designed. Items that are ergonomically designed allow for comfortable, natural movements; they’re made to feel like an extension of the body. This greatly helps reduce fatigue and muscle strain.
4. Be Aware
Awareness is a key component in workplace safety in general. Workers should be mindful of the actual and potential hazards around them. This means no screen time, headphones, or phone calls while performing work.
In addition, workers always need to be aware of what they’re touching and where their hands are going. They should never put their hands where they can’t be seen.
Awareness should extend to watching for trip-and-fall hazards: When people fall, the first action they usually take to protect themselves is to put out their hands to catch themselves. Always being aware of where you’re going and the surfaces you’re coming into contact with will help keep your hands safe.
5. Take Your Time, Be Prepared
Before embarking on any task, your workers need to be sure the area is safe and clear, and that they’re following all precautions and protocols. They should stop and take a beat. Check the area for clutter that may cause a distraction or get in the way. Are gloves on and do they fit well? Is all equipment in good shape? Is anyone in the way?
Taking a minute or two to double check that your crew is following all safety procedures — not cutting corners or taking anything for granted — is a great way to refocus attention on staying safe. Think of it as a version of the carpenter’s rule: “Measure twice, cut once.”
Small Efforts Reap Big Benefits
Keeping hands healthy and injury free is simple. It requires consistent attention to protocols, but consider the great payoff: Your workers maintain healthy hands and avoid painful, frustrating injuries. The company saves money and benefits from a happier, more effective workforce.
You can create a zero-hand-injury workplace. To help workers thrive, it’s as easy as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5!
About the Author:
TJ Scimone is founder and owner of Slice, Inc. Since 2008, his focus has been to create safer cutting tools. Slice offers unique knives, cutters, and scrapers, all of which feature innovative ergonomic designs and Slice’s patent-pending finger-friendly blades. For more information, contact: Slice, www.sliceproducts.com and https://blog.sliceproducts.com