If you are a musician, you might think the most important instrument you have is your guitar, or maybe it’s a trumpet. If you are a chef, you probably can’t imagine working without your favorite knife. In reality, as important as these tools are, they are not as critical to your work as a tool that you may take for granted and that is irreplaceable: your hands.
Each year, more than 16 million people injure their hands; more than a quarter of a million are serious, often disabling injuries. Typical hand injuries are bruises, cuts, puncture wounds, burns, and broken or severed fingers. More than half of all reported nail gun injuries, for example, are to the hand and fingers, and one quarter of these involve structural damage to tendons, joints, nerves, and bones. (Baggs J, Cohen M, Kalat J, Silverstein, . “Pneumatic Nailer Injuries—A Report on Washington State 1990-1998.” (Professional Safety Magazine. January: 3V-38.)
SAIF claims related to hand and finger injuries average around 6,000 each year, although the number is decreasing, and the cost of these claims, averaged over five years, is approximately $17 million a year.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of total time-loss injuries that can be directly related to finger, hand, and wrist injuries hovers around 20 percent to 25 percent for most industries, with a low of 12.6 percent for real estate and a high of 34.2 percent for hospitality services.
Another industry with a high percentage of time-loss injuries to the hands is manufacturing because of the serious hazards posed by inadequate guarding, failure to use existing guards on industrial equipment, or failure to follow lockout-tagout procedures (see the fall 2010 Comp News). Hazards contributing to hand injuries include wearing jewelry (especially rings and watches), inappropriate gloves, or loose-fitting clothing around moving parts; exposure to chemicals, corrosives, and heat that can cause burns; and constant repetitive motion that puts pressure on the carpal tunnel (a bony canal in your wrist).
By recognizing the hazards in your business, following a safety policy to avoid them, and using appropriate protective equipment, you could protect the most valuable tools you and your employees have.
Recognizing the hazards
Do a job-hazard analysis. A job-hazard analysis is a way to assess and control hazards associated with specific jobs. It breaks a job down into tasks that you then evaluate in order to determine if there is a better, safer way to do the task. A job-hazard analysis works well for jobs with histories of accidents or near misses or for complex jobs with a high potential for injury. Involving employees is an important part of the job-hazard analysis because they have a unique understanding of the job. OSHA’s Job Hazard Analysis Guide can help you conduct a job hazard analysis, or you may want to have a safety professional assist you.
Follow a safety policy for avoiding these hazards. Once you know the hazards specific to your business, create a safety policy to address them, then make sure the policy is communicated to all employees. If special training is necessary, make sure they get that as well, and encourage employees to report any behavior that doesn’t follow the safety policy. Purchase appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and make sure employees are trained in how to use it correctly.
Learn what type of PPE you need for the specific task: gloves, guards, forearm cuffs, barrier creams, etc. For example, wear rubber gloves when mixing chemicals, electrical gloves for electrical work, and steel-mesh gloves when cutting. Make sure the gloves fit properly and are comfortable, because no glove will protect you if it is so uncomfortable that you won’t wear it. Choosing the right size and type of glove will prevent the glove itself from becoming a hazard. When gloves become worn, torn, or contaminated, they should be discarded and replaced.
To minimize the pain of carpal tunnel
- Avoid tasks that require forceful, repetitive hand movements or end-range wrist motions. If your job requires this kind of movement, explore ways to reposition the work or try wearing wrist or hand braces (available at medical supply stores and some larger drugstores).
- Adjust your chair height so your arms are straight from elbow to fingertips as you use your computer. Consider trying an ergonomic keyboard to fit your particular needs. Take frequent breaks to stretch your hands.
- Shift your sleeping position if your symptoms bother you at night.
- Use a splint or brace at night to stabilize your wrist in a neutral position (not bent). This may help prevent or ease discomfort when you’re trying to sleep, because a neutral position allows the carpal tunnel to be slightly wider.
• Do not use your hand in place of the appropriate hand tool.
• Guard pinch points whenever possible.
• Always use jigs, push-sticks, guards, shields, and other protective devices when appropriate. Do not remove guards.
• Use brushes, not your hands, to wipe away debris.
• Inspect equipment and machinery before and after tasks to make sure they are in good operating condition.
• Disconnect power and follow established lockout-tagout procedures before repairing or cleaning machinery.
• Never wear jewelry or loose clothing when working with moving machine parts, and choose gloves carefully if they must be worn.
• Consult the material safety data sheet (MSDS) for the proper glove type when working with chemicals.
• Select tools designed to keep wrists straight to help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome.
• Never put your hand in a place that you cannot see.
“The Nail Gun Safety: A Guide for Construction Contractors” has good information on using this tool safely.
You can find more information about protecting your hands in the publication “Finger, Hand, and Wrist Injuries,” published by The Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers’ Compensation.
You can find out more about conducting a job hazard analysis in the OSHA publication “Job Hazard Analysis.”
This article is from the spring 2012 issue of Comp News. See other articles from this publication.