Toolbox Topic: Hand Safety
Hand safety is essential for preventing hand injuries. The hand is one of the most complex parts of your body. The tendons, bones, tissues, and nerves allow you to grip and do a wide variety of complex tasks. In this episode, we will discuss precautions you should take to make sure you go home with all your digits.
According to OSHA 1910.138(a), 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, cuts or lacerations; abrasions; punctures; chemical burns; thermal burns; and harmful temperature extremes.
And it continues under 1910.138(b), 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.
So let’s put this in simpler terms. Hand injuries can include abrasions, lacerations, burns, crushing injuries, and amputations. Precautions should be taken to avoid such injuries.
Our story begins in a small village near Nuremberg in the fifteenth century. Albrecht Dürer Sr., a local goldsmith, was married to Barbara Dürer, and together they had eighteen children. Two of their sons, Albrecht Dürer Jr. and his younger brother Albert, desperately wanted to be artists and attend the Academy of Art. But their father already worked nearly 18 hours a day and took odd jobs just to keep food on the table. So, it seemed pretty hopeless that even one of them could attend.
Despite these impossible conditions, neither brother wanted to give up on their dreams. So, one evening the two brothers devised a plan. They would simply flip a coin. The brother who lost the coin toss would work in the mines to support the other during his years of study. Then four years later, they would switch. The winner would either support the other brother through his artwork or go down into the mines himself.
One Sunday morning, they tossed a coin, and the older brother Albrecht won. Which meant the younger brother would go down into the mines. Albrecht spent the next four years studying, learning, and applying his trade. His artistic ability in drawing, painting, and woodcutting was the stuff of prodigies. He would even surpass his teachers. Soon after graduation, he quickly began earning money from his commissioned artworks.
Upon Albrecht’s return, the Durer family held a big dinner to celebrate his homecoming. Sitting at the head of the table, he proposed a toast to his beloved brother for the years of sacrifice that had enabled him to fulfill his dreams. Raising his glass, he toasted, “And Albert, blessed brother of mine, now it is your turn. Now you can go to pursue your dream, and I will take care of you.”
Albert rose, sobbing and wiping the tears from his cheeks. Looking down the long table at his brother, he said softly, “No, brother. I cannot go to the Academy. It is too late for me”. He showed his brother his hands. His hands were rough, disfigured, and arthritic. After years of hard labor, he had broken every bone in his hands at least once. The fine and delicate work of an artist was now impossible for him.
To honor his brother Albrecht asked Albert if he could paint his hands for an altarpiece he had been commissioned to create. Five hundred years later, you have likely seen this painting yourself; it’s called “The Praying Hands” by the famous artist Albrecht Dürer.
Statistics Hand Safety
Every year a million workers are treated in an ER for hand injuries.
Each year there are approximately 110,000 hand injuries that require days away from work. The average hand injury costs $7500 in lost-time workers’ compensation claims.
In 2017 alone, hand injuries included:
• 27,000 crushing injuries
• 31,500 Fractures, sprains, and tears
• 60,000 cuts, lacerations, and punctures
As shocking as this may sound, approximately 70% of workers who suffered a hand injury were not wearing gloves! Of the workers who did wear gloves, 30% wore the wrong type!
Safety Tips on Hand Safety
PPE is the last line of defense! Wear gloves and wear the right gloves for the job. Always wear gloves when handling sharp objects. When handling hot or cold objects, use tongs or high-temperature gloves. Use oven mitts and cut-resistant gloves when working in restaurants. Wear safety sleeves to protect your hands and arms when performing mechanical repairs or similar work.
Tip#2 Machinery and Pinch Points
We did a whole episode on pinch points (you can find it here). A pinch point is where a body part can get caught, resulting in amputations, cuts, or crushing injuries. Machine guards should never be removed unless you are making repairs that require you to remove a guard. Also, ensure you follow Lock Out Tag Out procedures and the equipment is de-energized. In addition, block equipment to protect against unintentional start-up due to stored energy. Never put your hands where you cannot see them. Before working with or on equipment, identify any pinch points. An excellent real-life example: I worked with a company where we had an employee amputate a finger raising the rails of a scissor lift. Make sure you do this task properly because your fingers are never in the line of fire if you do. Lastly, don’t wear jewelry that can get hung up on equipment or machinery.
Tip#3 Working with Bench Grinders
Don’t wear gloves when operating s bench grinder. Never remove the guards!
Maintain proper clearances on tool rests and tongue guards. Use vice grips when grinding small parts. Sidenote: Do wear your eye protection!
Tip#4 Power Tools
Drill presses should be equipped with spindle guards. When using a table saw, use a push stick to cut small pieces. Always unplug or Lockout tools before changing blades. Never remove guards.
When trying to remove a pin or a bolt that is stuck or some other situation that calls for it, a punch is often used. Never use any item not intended for this task. Another real-world example: I worked with a company, and one of their mechanics used a bolt as a punch that ended in a broken finger. Use a slide hammer, a punch with a guard, or a punch with a handle. The goal is to get your hands out of the line of fire.