Seven ways to reduce hand injuries in manufacturing environments
It is critical to select high-dexterity hand protection, particularly for applications that require the use of fine motor skills
While protecting the overall health and well-being of employees should be an employer’s paramount concern, special attention must be paid to preventing hand and finger injuries, which are second only to back strains and sprains in lost workdays, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some studies show that nearly 20% of workplace injuries involve cuts and lacerations to the hand and fingers.
Not only are there an estimated 110,000 lost time hand injuries annually, but hand injuries send more than one million workers to the emergency room each year. In addition to the physical harm that hand injuries pose to workers, they also have financial implications. The average hand injury claim has now exceeded $6,000, with each lost time workers’ compensation claim reaching nearly $7,500, according to the BLS and the National Safety Council. When you consider these statistics, the overall drain on employee productivity is apparent.
To address these challenges, a comprehensive hand care and protection plan should be established with requirements to protect employees’ hands by eliminating exposure to risks and hazards before they become a problem. This plan should also institute procedures to be followed by employees and contract personnel whose jobs require the use of hand protection to mitigate their hazard exposure.
Here are seven ways to reduce hand injuries in your own facility through the implementation of a hand care protection program:
1. Conduct a trend analysis.
Identify trends or patterns related to incidents of hand injuries in your facilities. A trend analysis should be based on a combination of lagging (reactive) and leading (proactive) performance indicators. For example, a facility could measure the number of reportable hand injuries (lagging), while also measuring the reduction of risks associated with the hazards that contribute to hand injuries (leading). The analysis of these trends enables facility management to gain a better understanding of the types of hand injuries employees are experiencing and what behaviors or work tasks may be leading to those injuries.
2. Perform a job-hazard analysis, or job-hazard assessment.
Based on the findings of the trend analysis, facilities should be able to identify potential sources of hand injury hazards. Facilities should then take a systematic approach to a formal hand hazard assessment through a job-hazard analysis to ensure that every potential risk and hazard is being monitored, measured, and mitigated. A job-hazard analysis is a technique that focuses on job tasks as a way to identify hazards before they occur. It focuses on the relationship between the worker, the task, the tools, and the work environment. Once a risk has been identified, this analysis should be used to evaluate the risk based on severity, frequency, and probability of occurrence. This component is critical to reducing hand injuries as it identifies uncontrolled hazards and allows for the implementation of procedures to eliminate or mitigate the potential of risk exposures.
3. Confirm that required hand protection meets or exceeds regulatory standards.
Once the appropriate hand protection has been identified, make sure that hand protection is the correct type, model, and size according to regulatory standards per each specific “glove on” task requiring the use of hand protection.
4. Provide employee training.
At a minimum, employers should provide hand care awareness and protection training to all employees on an ongoing basis. Hand care protection training should be continual and systematic. It’s important that all employees utilizing hand protection also be trained initially and on a reoccurring basis, when new hand protection is required and/or provided and if evaluation indicates training deficiency is noted. Training should address the following:
- Tasks for which hand protection use is required and potential hazards of tasks
- What hand protection is required
- How to wear the hand protection
- Limitations of the hand protection
- Signs and symptoms of exposure
- Proper use and care of hand protection, maintenance, inspections, service life, and disposal.
5. When appropriate, safety gloves should be carried by employees at all times.
Offering employees glove clips ensures that gloves are always readily available and within close reach when work tasks require hand protection. In addition, employers can have employees, contractors, and vendors wear gloves on both hands when the work task or situation requires glove use, such as: when working on equipment behind guards; any time a nonpowered cutting tool is being used; when loosening or tightening bolts with a tool; when working with sheet metal, metal equipment, or metal ductwork; when reaching blindly into hard-to-see areas; when handling wood pallets, etc.
6. Conduct periodic audits to ensure continued compliance.
Maintaining compliance is critical when working to reduce hand injuries. Periodic audits should be conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of current hand protection strategies and policies, as well as to adjust hand protection requirements as needed. Audits should include observations of employee work habits during a variety of job tasks. This will help determine whether employees are following procedures and wearing required PPE. The audit process should include a way to document observations and recommended corrective actions. It's important that facility management communicate the results of these audits with employees to promote transparency and engagement. Communications should address the positive observed behaviors, the observations that required improvement, and the recommended corrective actions to be taken.
7. Engage in open communication for continuous improvement.
To ensure continuous improvement, the hand care and protection plan should be reviewed by management to address key opportunities for improvement in the implementation of hand protection requirements. Once these improvements have been identified, they should be communicated with employees. Verbal and visual reminders go a long way to encouraging the internalization of safety and accountability. The success of the hand protection program hinges on leadership’s commitment to safety, as well as employees being engaged in the process of creating healthy and safe work environments for themselves and their follow workers. Only through open dialogue and collaboration are manufacturers able to achieve positive results.
Manufacturing facilities that implement a hand care and protection plan are well positioned to relentlessly pursue reducing the risk of hand-related injuries through the use of proper PPE and exercising safe workplace behaviors. In addition, facilities should continuously evolve their risk mitigation and assessment strategies to proactively address new workplace challenges and changes in worker behavior.
By encouraging PPE compliance and having a well-grounded culture that values safety and shared accountability, workplaces are safer and more productive.
Brenda Nader is North America environmental health and safety leader for Kimberly-Clark Professional.