Our hands are one of our most valuable assets. You need your hands for most common activities, especially at work, so preventing hand injuries is something to keep front of mind. Unfortunately, hand safety is often overlooked and hand and finger injuries in the workplace continue to be common.
Bone fractures and breaks, tendon and muscle tears, and cuts and lacerations are some of the more common ways workers injure their hands on the job. While treating hand injuries can prove to be costly and often require many days out of work to recover, the good news is that many workplace hand injuries are easily preventable. With the right training, tools, resources, and education, employers and employees can help prevent hand injuries.
The Risk and Cost of Hand Injuries
Hand injuries don’t discriminate. They can happen to anyone, regardless of gender, age, or industry.
However, people working in industries like farming, construction, installation and maintenance, and transportation experience higher numbers of hand injuries than those who work in other industries. This is largely due to the frequent use of heavy machinery, repetitive tasks, and the physical nature of these fields. Machines like assembly equipment, hammers, saws, bulldozers, and other heavy equipment can put workers at increased risk of serious hand injuries.
And according to the data, ignoring anyone’s risk of experiencing a hand injury can prove costly. Sixteen percent of all workplace hand injuries involve employees who are 55 and older and often require longer periods of recovery, which means more days away from work following an injury. While the median number of work days missed overall for hand injuries is five, older workers who experience these injuries often need 12 to 14 days to recover.
And hand injuries don’t just cost employers and employees missed days. It’s very easy for these injuries to quickly grow more and more expensive financially, depending on the type of injury.
Key Hand Injury Statistics:
- 110,000 lost-time hand injuries annually
- Hand injuries send more than one million workers to the emergency room each year
- 70 percent of workers who experienced hand injuries were not wearing gloves
- The remaining 30 percent of injured workers did wear gloves, but the gloves were inadequate, damaged or the wrong type for the type of hazard present.
Most Common Hand Injuries
Here are the most common:
Cuts, Lacerations, and Punctures
These types of injuries can happen for a variety of reasons, from broken glass to machine mishaps, and can be the most intensive injuries to treat, often requiring stitches or more to begin the healing process.
One explanation for why lacerations are so common could be a simple lack of hand protection. To combat this, employers require workers to use appropriate protection when their hands are exposed to any dangers that could result in the following:
- Skin absorption of harmful substances
- Severe cuts or lacerations
- Severe abrasions
- Chemical and/or thermal burns
- Harmful temperature extremes
Following these guidelines can greatly increase hand safety at any workplace, reduce the number of days workers miss due to injury, and lessen the number of workers’ compensation claims.
These injuries are just like they sound and usually involve parts of, or the entire, hand getting caught between heavy machinery and another hard surface. Crushes are the third most common cause of hand injuries.
Crushes can permanently disfigure, scar, or damage the hands. This happens most often in cases where a crush prevents blood from reaching muscles in the hand.
Fractures, Sprains, and Tears
While cuts, lacerations, and punctures affect the outer parts of the hand, fractures, sprains, and tears have more to do with the hand’s inner workings: the bones and tendons.
Fractures are breaks in the bone, and can be caused by trips, falls, and crushes. They can require much longer recovery times than other injuries.
Avulsion fractures are also common with hand injuries. These types of fractures happen when a bone is moving one way and a tendon or ligament is moving or pulled in the other direction. A common avulsion injury happens when a worker’s wedding ring or other piece of jewelry gets caught on machinery. Many workplaces that use heavy machinery ask workers to remove any rings that they wear due to the risk for avulsion fractures and even detachments that can occur.
Soreness and Other Pain
Consistent soreness and pain in the hands is another widespread condition. Many of these injuries stem from repetitive tasks, such as typing or other frequent hand movements.
Keeping Hands Safe
Employers can take some easy-to-incorporate measures to prevent hand injuries in the workplace. Consider the following:
- Provide Personal Protective Equipment
Make sure your workers are well equipped with personal protective equipment (PPE), like gloves, that helps protect their hands from any injuries that may be sustained in their line of work. Overprotection is always better than under-protection, so err on the side of caution.
When selecting the type of protective glove for employees, there are several important factors to consider that may vary based on industry. Not all gloves are the same, and not all gloves provide the same type of protection
- Educate and Set Expectations
Be sure to educate your workers about the tools and machinery that is used frequently at your worksite. Host training programs to help employees get to know equipment features, potential hazards, and appropriate safety measures.
You can also post a list of safety tips and workplace expectations in heavily trafficked areas – like locker and break rooms – that reminds employees to remove all rings, necklaces, earrings, and other jewelry before using hazardous machinery. Employees should always stay focused while handling heavy machinery and tools, with minimal distractions in areas where potentially dangerous equipment is being used.
- Support Open Communications
Make sure your employees know that they can report any safety issues they identify in the field to their managers or supervisors. Employers should always be present and available for employees to report any safety issues or concerns immediately. When someone reports an issue, it is an opportunity to review what happened, what could have prevented the problem, and any other pertinent information with employees.
- In case of Emergencies
If your employees experience significant injuries, they should be considered medical emergencies and should be promptly evaluated in the nearest emergency department. Significant injuries can include (but are not limited to) severe crush injuries, finger avulsions, severe lacerations, extensive burns, or injection type injuries from high pressure paint or grease guns.