Wednesday, April 24, 2013

“Hand Injuries: Protecting Your Valuable Tools”

Have you asked yourself what it would be like to lose a finger, a thumb or a hand?  Your hands are one of the most valuable “tools” that you use (both on the job and off), and injuries to the hands and fingers can make everyday tasks very difficult or even impossible. 
There is no standard for hand injury prevention, but hand protection is addressed in OSHA Regulation 29 CFR 1910.138 which relates to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).  It states, “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.”  OSHA’s General Duty Clause would also apply to situations that may cause injury to the hands.  The General Duty Clause states, “Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees."

Coming up with a list of situations that could cause hand injuries can be difficult, but following these basic steps will help keep hands safe.  They include:
  1. Be aware of and respect the potential hazards on the job, which includes knowing the possible dangers to your hands
    • Pinch points
    • Temperature extremes
    • Sharp objects
    • Rotating or moving parts
    • Toxic or corrosive chemicals
    • Insect bites and stings
    • Electrical burns or shock
    • Excessive force or repetition
    • Vibrating equipment
  2. Focus your attention on the task you are doing and don’t let your attention wander
  3. Be familiar with your PPE policy and use the correct gloves and safety equipment provided
  4. Don’t wear loose clothing or jewelry while operating tools and machinery
  5. When working with chemicals, consult the Safety Data Sheet (SDS)
  6. Ensure that proper guards are in place on tools and machinery
  7. When using knives, cut away from you and use a retractable blade if possible
  8. Wash hands often to help prevent the spread of disease and infection
  9. Keep in touch with safety by following safe work practices such as good housekeeping and using the right tools or PPE in the correct manner for the job
Before assuming that PPE is needed to control an identified hazard, you should investigate possible engineering and work practice controls to remove or isolate the hazards.  With engineering controls, it is possible to physically change the machine or work environment to prevent exposure to hazards altogether.  If engineering or work practice controls are not feasible or cannot eliminate or adequately control potential hazards, then you may need to look at PPE.  The most common PPE for hand protection is gloves.  Of course there are many types of gloves on the market, so it is important to select one with performance characteristics needed in relation to the task being performed.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are about 250,000 serious injuries to fingers, hands, and wrists every year.  It is believed that as much as 90% of hand injuries are caused by human error.  Distractions, stress, exhaustion and overexertion can sometimes lead to unsafe work practices that may cause hand injuries.  The first step you need to take to prevent hand injuries from happening is to be aware of and respect the potential hazards on the job.
Remember that it’s very important to control or provide good protection from hazards that present a threat to hands and fingers, because it only takes a split second for a life-changing event to occur.
By Jackie Torgerson

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