Hand injuries can be especially traumatic, stripping away not only an employee’s ability to work, but also the ability to perform activities of daily living. Yet, workplace hand protection often doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
OSHA’s hand protection standard (29 CFR 1910.138) is short and sweet:
General requirements. 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 [e.g., chemicals, bloodborne pathogens, other infectious materials]; severe cuts or lacerations; severe abrasions; punctures; chemical burns; thermal burns; and harmful temperature extremes.
Selection. Employers shall base the selection of the appropriate hand protection on an evaluation of the performance characteristics of the hand protection relative to the task(s) to be performed, conditions present, duration of use, and the hazards and potential hazards identified.
Although OSHA makes the employer responsible for assessing hand hazards, involving employees in this hazard assessment can be an effective training technique, as well as a good way to get buy-in to your hand safety program.
For example, you could ask employees to list all the ways their hands might be injured on the job. Depending on the tasks done in your workplace, their lists might include:
- Cuts, lacerations, punctures, and even amputations
- Abrasions from rough surfaces
- Broken fingers or other bones of the hand
- Chemical burns
- Severe skin irritation (dermatitis) from contact with certain chemicals
- Thermal burns from touching very hot objects
- Effects of exposure to extreme cold
- Absorption of hazardous substances through unprotected skin
- Hand-, finger-, and wrist-related MSDs (musculoskeletal disorders)
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Gloves: The Premier Hand Protection
Gloves generally provide the most effective barrier between hands and hazards as long as your workers have the knowledge to select the right kind of gloves for the specific job hazards they face.
Here’s what workers should know about gloves:
- Insulated gloves protect against heat and cold. Choose fire-retardant materials for exposure to open flames. Choose reflective materials for exposure to radiant heat.
- Neoprene, rubber, vinyl, and other materials protect against chemicals. (Note: No glove protects against all chemicals, so employees should always check Material Safety Data Sheets for instructions.)
- Special insulated rubber gloves protect against electrical shock and burns.
- Metal mesh or other cut-resistant gloves protect against sharp objects.
- Leather gloves protect against rough surfaces, chips and sparks, and moderate heat.
- Cotton gloves protect against dirt, splinters, and abrasion and help grip slippery objects, but do not offer good protection against rough, sharp, or heavy materials.
Gloves should be inspected before each use and replaced if they’re torn, cracked, or otherwise damaged.
Also make sure employees know not to wear gloves in situations where gloves create a greater hazard—for example, when working on a machine with moving parts in which the gloves might get caught.
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Other Precautions to Protect Hands
- Don’t clean hands with solvents or industrial detergents.
- Check materials for sharp edges, splinters, hot or cold temperatures, etc., before handling them.
- Keep hands away from moving machine parts.
- Always cut away from the body.
- Remove chemical-protective gloves carefully. Rinse gloves thoroughly before taking them off. Remove contaminated gloves so contamination doesn’t touch skin. Wash hands thoroughly after removing gloves.
- Bandage cuts or scrapes before putting on chemical-resistant gloves.
First Aid for Hand Injuries
- Chemical contact: Wash skin thoroughly for 15 minutes.
- Cuts: If large and bleeding, apply direct pressure and raise hand over the shoulder, then get medical attention. If small, wash with soap and warm water, dry, and cover with a sterile bandage.
- Thermal burns: Soak a minor burn in cold water for at least 1 minute immediately following burn. Cover with a sterile bandage. Get immediate medical help for a burn that’s charred or blistered.
- Amputation: Call for an ambulance immediately. Put the body part inside a clean plastic bag and put that bag inside another plastic bag with ice. Send bag along with victim to the hospital.
- Broken bones: Keep the hand still and get medical attention.