Take Safety Into Your Own Hands
by Stephen Zasadil, WSRCA Safety Consultant, president, SNK Services LLC
(Editor’s Note: Stephen Zasadil spent ten years as a safety of flight operator with the United States Navy before beginning his career as a safety compliance consultant in 2009. He currently works with companies across the United States to provide OSHA compliance information, documentation, and training.)
When is the last time you looked at your hands? If you’re like me, it’s probably been a minute since you took the time to really see them. We use them every day for tasks big and small, from opening the pickle jar to hammering a nail to tucking our loved ones in at night. Some tasks are simple, and some are pretty intricate. We can all agree on one thing, however, which is things would be much more difficult if our hands weren’t in good shape.
You’ve probably got some scars, maybe even some fresh cuts and scratches. With a bit of attention, some preparation, and a little upkeep, we can keep our very first set of tools in working order for a lifetime. Have you grabbed a sharp object or touched a hot surface? Have you felt pain in your hand because of how you were gripping a tool or twisting your wrist? Have you come close to getting your hand or finger caught or crushed, or had your skin come in contact with a chemical? Approximately 20% of all disabling accidents on the job involve the hands.
There are many hazards on construction sites that can result in a hand injury. These include: cuts, lacerations, and punctures caused by contact with sharpened or edged surfaces on equipment, tools, or materials; crushed, causing fractures or amputations, which can be caused by contact with pinch points, heavy objects, jewelry, ill-fitting gloves, and loose clothing; strains, sprains, and fatigue caused by using the wrong tool for the job, or one that is too big, small, or heavy; burns caused by contact with a hot surface, flame, or a hazardous chemical; and dermatitis caused by long-term exposure to the elements and hazardous chemicals.
Work-related hand injuries are one of the leading reasons workers end up in the emergency room and miss work. There are lots of hazards on our work sites that could result in hand injury. All the above-mentioned hazards could result in different forms and levels of injury. Hand injury could be mild, moderate, or severe. Since we cannot predict the possible consequence of hand hazards, taking the proper steps to prevent them is essential.
Here are some hand safety tips:
- Get/perform training on hand safety
- Include hand safety in your job hazard analysis
- Choose the right tool for the job
- If equipment is damaged, tag it for repair and don’t use it
- No loose clothing, ill-fitting gloves, or jewelry with moving tools
- Be informed on the correct gloves to use with hazardous chemicals
- Keep fingernails trimmed
- Don’t place your hands in areas where you can’t see possible hazards
- Hand protection is an always item
- Inspect equipment before use
- Never work with any unguarded equipment
- See how equipment moves to avoid pinch points
- Verify that electrical power is disconnected and tagged before touching
- Utilize lock out/tag out/block out to avoid auto-starting equipment
- Do not alter gloves, and discard gloves that are damaged or worn out
- If working with hot surfaces, wear gloves designed to insulate
- Inspect your gloves before work begins and throughout the process
- All gloves are not created equal
- Work efficiently instead of quickly
- Take time to stretch your hands
Any scrapes or scratches that break the skin have the potential to cause an infection. Clean the wound thoroughly with soap and water, then use an adhesive bandage to keep it clean. A large wound may require additional attention. For any wound, say something about it so that in a couple of days a follow up can be had to be sure no infection or loss of mobility has occurred.
Aside of gloves for protection, don’t use your hands when there are tools for the job. For example, don’t use your bare hands to brush away metal shavings from a work surface. Instead, use a brush, broom, or dustpan. Be very aware of sharp edges or corners. Before grabbing hold of an object, check for sharp edges and watch for pinch points. When stacking or loading material, keep your fingers to the sides to ensure they do not get caught between. Maintain a good grip on materials, and don’t lift items that are too heavy. Always keep your hands away from moving machinery.
Stretching your hands and fingers before and during work will also help to prevent fatigue in the short term and can help to prevent more serious injuries like carpal tunnel over time. Each person’s hands are unique, and over time can tell their own story. Keeping them protected will make that story a good one.