Hand Hazards in the Workplace
When it comes to workplace accidents and injuries, few are more common or more traumatic than hand injuries. Every year thousands of people experience severe cuts or even amputations, which can have a permanent impact not only on their ability to work, but also to perform most common tasks outside of work as well.
There are many risks in the workplace that can cause these types of injuries. Sharp items can cause severe cuts, moving machinery or vehicles can crush hands, hot surfaces or chemicals can cause severe burns, and many other things pose a threat too.
In most workplaces people take precautions to avoid the most obvious of hand hazards, but there are still many that are overlooked. Making it a point to identify these risks and finding ways to minimize them is very important for all facilities. According to OSHA’s Hand Protection Regulations:
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.
The following are some of the most often missed hand hazards in the workplace, and some simple ways to stay safe.
Improper or Insufficient Labeling in the Facility
One of the biggest risks for hand injury that is often overlooked originates from improper or insufficient labeling in the facility. The following are a few situations where this type of thing can cause significant problems:
- Improper Pipe Labeling – If someone goes to a faucet or hose to wash their hands or fill a container, it is essential that they know what will come out of the hose. If they assume it is water, but it is actually a corrosive chemical, they can have severe injuries. Even if it is water, the temperature may be scalding, resulting in problems. Proper pipe labels are extremely important.
- Improper Container Labeling – All containers used in a facility should be clearly labeled with what is in them. Without clear labels on ever container, people may mistakenly assume it is safe to touch what is inside without protective gear.
- Missing Labels for Hot or Sharp Areas – When a machine has a specific area that is extremely hot or sharp, it is important to have a label on or near it to let people know. Just because the normal operators would be trained to avoid the danger, it is still important to have this type of labeling in place to keep those who aren’t aware safe.
Fortunately, safety labels (which can be purchased here) are extremely affordable and easy to use. Many facilities have an industrial label printer (similar to this one) on site to create custom labels as soon as they are needed. This can be a great way to help reduce the number and type of hand hazards in any facility.
Working in Cold Environments
Whether it is a construction crew working outside in the winter, or someone who may have to work in an indoor freezer, cold environments can have a major effect on hands if you don’t have the proper protection.
Working in cold environments can cause hands to become numb, and eventually lead to frostbite. Many people are surprised at just how quickly this can happen. The risk is amplified when you are working in a moist area or with water.
While everyone knows that gloves are important, they can also be restricting and get in the way. Employees may be tempted to take them off to complete a task, but that is a big mistake. In just minutes the nerves in hands can be damaged by the cold, resulting in numbness and other problems that can last the rest of their life.
Companies need to make sure they stress the importance of always wearing the right gloves while working in the cold, and to never take them off. Letting people know about the risk of frost bite, and how it can cause lifelong problems is very important.
Repetitive Motion Problems
When people think about hand hazards they often first thing about hands being crushed, cut or burned. The fact is, however, that problems associated with repetitive motion are also quite common.
Since many people in a facility will be performing the same or similar tasks all day long for years on end, they can experience a variety of problems associated with this repetitive motion. This type of hand hazard can cause stiff or painful joints and even lead to a loss of strength in the hands and wrists.
Working with the employees, employers should do everything they can to allow people to perform different types of work with their hands so that they aren’t exposed to this type of risk. Even just giving them hand and wrist braces or other equipment can help to reduce the overall hazard to their hands.
Injuries while Loading & Loading Items
When people are loading or unloading items on to a truck, pallet or machine, they are often in quite a hurry. It is important to be able to get things where they need to go fast, which can expose them to significant hand hazards.
The following are some important points to keep in mind throughout the loading and unloading process in order to improve hand safety in any facility:
- Even Boxes can be Dangerous – Many people think that when they are working with boxed items, they are safe. The fact is, however, that ‘paper cuts’ from strong boxes can actually be quite serious. While you aren’t likely to lose a finger or cause permanent damage, a cut from a box can cause weeks of problems.
- Pinch Points – There are many pinch points to watch out for when working with any type of loading or unloading. Having your hand or finger smashed between boxes or other inventory items can quickly break a bone or cause other issues.
- Working near Machinery – In many cases employees will be loading or unloading items from things like conveyer belts or other machines. It only takes a second to have fingers or hands caught in almost any type of moving part. Without proper precautions, this can cut or rip hands or fingers right off. Making sure to keep everyone’s hands away from these areas is very important.
Always put Safety First
The most important thing when looking at hand hazards in the workplace is to make sure you always put safety first. It can be tempting to skip over things like protective gloves or proper safety communication in order to speed up work, but in the long run that is a major mistake.
Not only does this put people at significant risk of getting injured, but it can also cause major work interruptions. Whenever there is an injury, work will need to stop to take care of the people involved and possibly perform an investigation. In addition, the injured party may not be able to return to work for some time. With this in mind, it is clearly better to put safety first, especially when it comes to hand protection.