Hands are one of the twos—two hands, two feet, two arms, two legs, two eyes, and two ears. Any one of these (or both) can be injured on the job. But hands are particularly vulnerable, and not always easy to protect.
Because the hands and fingers play a role in virtually every task, they are unusually vulnerable to injury. And they are also often taken for granted and not protected as well as they should be.
Yet their distinctive characteristics—strength, flexibility, sensitivity, and coordination—are vital, and hand protection and safety should be a major concern for both employers and workers.
Hands and fingers can be injured in many different ways. For example, they can be:
- Irritated by dermatitis
- Crushed or mangled
Fortunately, almost all hand and finger injuries can be prevented. But it takes engineering controls, PPE, lots and lots of training, and daily reinforcement of the hand safety message to protect employees from workplace hand hazards such as:
- Machines and tools
- Sharp objects
- Rough surfaces
- Hot substances and surfaces
- Extreme cold
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Hand Safety Do’s and Don’ts
Make sure your workers learn and remember these hand safety do’s and don’ts.
- Pay attention to where both hands are placed at all times while working, especially when working with machinery.
- Wear appropriate gloves to protect against particular hazards.
- Use the right tool for the job, and know how to use tools safely, especially power tools.
- Stretch your hands and fingers from time to time to give tense and tired muscles and tendons a chance to relax.
- Protect your hands when working with chemicals, hot substances, sharp objects, and other common workplace hand hazards.
- Don’t use hands to feed material into machines.
- Don’t wear gloves, jewelry, or long sleeves around rotating machinery.
- Don’t use your hands to sweep up wood chips, metal shavings, glass, or other sharp objects.
- Don’t use strong solvents or gasoline to clean your hands.
- Don’t operate machinery or power tools under the influence of alcohol or drugs, even some prescription drugs.
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To emphasize the importance of these safety rules, conduct a short exercise with employees at your next hand safety meeting. Ask workers to try to tie their shoelaces with only one hand. It can be done, but only with a lot of practice, a special technique, and incredible patience.
Remind them after they’ve spent a few frustrating minutes trying to tie their laces that if they lost a hand in a job accident, this is what they would have to put up with every day.
Also point out that in the most recent year for which statistics are available there were more than 100,000 hand and finger injuries that required days away from work. That’s more than 270 a day! And that’s just the lost-workday injuries. The actual number when you add in all the cuts and scraps and unreported accidents is much higher.