Hand Safety

There is literally nothing that occurs in the work place that does not require the use of hands. It is not surprising then that hand injuries are the most common injury in the work place. These injuries include cuts, punctures, amputations, fractures, crush injuries and burns. How does one avoid these types of injuries? Our first impulse is to say “better glove usage” but is that really true? A review of accident reports will likely tell you that employees often are wearing appropriate gloves when they injure their hands. What is the answer then if gloves are not enough? Further review of the accident report will likely show that the injured worker had his hands in a position where injury was likely. The hands were in the “danger zone”. 

A simple example that we all can relate to is where you place your hands when you close a door. Keeping your hand on the handle is a good hand position and allows you to close the door safely. Using the edge of the door to close it and failing to withdraw your hand quickly enough results in a painful pinching of the fingers. The hand was left in the danger zone. Distraction only makes the situation worse.

The primary method to avoid hand injuries is to keep hands away from hazards or “out of the danger zone”.  The secondary method to avoid hand injuries is to provide protective covering for the hand so that if a hazard is encountered the glove can protect against that hazard. OSHA 1910.138 states that employers shall select and require employees to use appropriate hand protection when employees’ hands are exposed to hazards such as those from skin absorption of harmful substances; severe cuts or lacerations; severe abrasions; punctures; chemical burns; thermal burns; and harmful temperature extremes.

It is the responsibility of the employer to review job tasks to ensure that hands are kept out of the danger zone with the way the process is set up. If hazards are found, can they be eliminated to make the job safer? Ensure that employees do not have to place their hands under suspended loads. Machines with moving parts must be guarded with guards left in place at all times. An effective barrier must be maintained between hands and hazards by using tools or other aids (i.e., using a pusher device to push wood through a saw when the cut is close). Adherence to lock out/tag out is critical to protect hands. 

Care must also be taken to ensure that secondary sources of energy are also addressed (i.e., bleeding off stored energy in cylinders, receivers, pipelines) to ensure that injury does not occur from this source. Good work station housekeeping will ensure that injuries do not occur as a worker is rummaging through debris to find work tools. Work rules should include a prohibition on loose clothing on the upper body around any moving machinery. It is too easy for the loose clothing to get caught in the machinery and pull the person into the machinery, including a loose sleeve that would pull a hand into the machinery. 

Rings also pose a special problem in that they can get caught on moving machinery or parts and be pulled off the finger, along with the flesh and muscle of the finger.  Employees should always be supplied with the correct tools for the job and tools that are in good condition. Employees who have to exert force, pushing or pulling, should be taught to be prepared for an unexpected slip or release.  

Gloves can provide a great second line of defense against hand injury. Gloves are designed to protect against specific hazards and should be chosen accordingly. It is important that gloves are properly sized, in good condition and regularly worn.   

A toolbox talk to use with your employees is found at www.asa.net.

This tenth step on the path to an effective safety program can positively impact your productivity, the health and well-being of your employees, and a better bottom line.

This article was written in conjunction with participants in the OSHA and ASA Alliance. It does not necessarily reflect the official views of OSHA or the U.S. Department of Labor.