Cuts and lacerations, sprains, broken bones, burns, and infections all affect the hands of millions of workers every single year in America. While employees generally seek to be careful and are protective of their own bodies, accidents happen and, when they do, they can range from the very minor to the very severe, going so far as to remove or infringe upon an employee’s ability to work. Unfortunately, there are many of these situations which are preventable with the proper hand protection equipment and safety policies. In this blog post, we’re going to walk through the five steps managers can take to protect the hands of their workforce from on the job hazards.
The first step in any safety regimen is assessing the risks associated with your workers’ tasks.
Cuts: Think about what hazards might present your workers with the risk of cutting their hands. First look at the tools your workers are using regularly, do they have blades or sharp edges? If so, this means that handling of work implements could be potentially dangerous. How about the counter tops, machines, and products they work with and handle regularly? If these have sharp edges they should also be noted.
Burns: Are your workers’ hands exposed to extreme temperatures throughout the work day, this could be due to working with extremely hot or cold, or having to transport them over a distance. Additionally, chemicals which are corrosive when in contact with the skin can be major burn risks. Also think about containers or machines used in production that can reach extreme temperatures as employees might accidentally touch or brush up against these.
Crushing Injuries: Some of the most gruesome hand injuries come about as a result of pinching or catching in a machine or tool. Fingers and hands can become bruised, sprained, broken, and even severed. Assess whether open machine parts or tools could pose these types of risks for your employees.
2. Make A Plan
Based on your findings, it’s now time to take what you observed and start coming up with solutions. For cutting risks, assess where additional tool guards could be added; tools can also be fitted with better grips to facilitate safer handling. How about sanding down or placing padding over sharp edges and corners? For burning risks, which vary greatly in type, the best solution is often to section off areas from regular employee access so they can’t get near extremely hot or cold machinery. This can be sectioned off using red floor tape to help communicate the hazardous areas.
Decreasing or eliminating activities which involve the transport by hand of chemicals or hot substances can also help to cut down on burning incidents. For crushing injuries, rigorous machine and tool training is a must to ensure safe handling techniques and awareness of where one’s body parts are with regards to machinery at all times. Also, machines should be fitted with guards that prevent any clothing or limbs from entering moving parts or potential pinch points. You should be able to address every risk you assessed to at least some extent; if you find this difficult, bring in a team of other individuals to help you come up with solutions (asking employees to help in this process is a great way to go as they’re on the ground floor every day!).
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Let employees know what will be changing before you start doing it; people are much less resistant to change when they know it’s coming and the rationale has been explained to them in advance. Begin by making your simplest changes, those which can be made with minimal or no interruption to everyday operations. For example, installing safety floor signs or wall signs can help communicate the potential dangers or that proper PPE is required (like this Hand PPE floor sign). For larger fixes, try your best to situate them after hours or during weekend closures if you have them. Employees are also more likely to get on board with new safety training and fixes if they don’t interfere with what they’re already doing.
4. Get Proper PPE
Hand protection comes primarily in the form of gloves, so this is where you want to turn after you’ve completed initial environmental remedies in the workplace. OSHA requires the following of managers when selecting hand protection for their employees:
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.
Basically, you need to find gloves that will either simultaneously address all of the types of risks you found in your workplace in step one, or buy different gloves for each task as required. It is generally best to have one type of glove that covers as many risks as possible (for example, a tough glove to prevent cutting that is also heat resistant) to help avoid the amount of times workers have to change hand gear, which can decrease compliance rates. When ordering hand protection, involve employees and get them to test gloves before expecting them to be worn every day. In general, one size does NOT fit all, and lack of comfort is one of the top cited reasons in why workers shun use of their protective gear.
5. Adapt & Grow
As your new policies training take hold, monitor what is working and what isn’t, and try to make adjustments accordingly. Don’t take any shortcomings of your new fixes personally, your number one goal is always to keep your workers safe, not to be right. Encourage employees to give you their feedback on new PPE at regular intervals as well. By extension, this means you should stay on top of maintenance and replacement of new gear as well. PPE that is damaged can be just as dangerous, or even more so, than none at all.