Workers rely on their hands to complete almost every single workday task. Given that they’re used so frequently, it can be easy to take your hands for granted—and just as easy to injure them. All the small bones and muscles that work together to make hands so incredible and dexterous are also the reason they are so easy to injure. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, hand injuries are the second most common workplace injury, second only to back injuries. Hands are often at a major risk of injury due to the high volume of work they are used for combined with their relative fragility. But there are things you can do in your workplace to keep employees’ hands safe.
The easiest way to decrease hand injuries in the workplace is for workers to wear appropriate protective safety gloves. Almost 71% of hand and arm injuries could have been prevented by safety gloves, according to OSHA. Pretty simple solution, right? In practice, however, it can be difficult to ensure worker compliance; as it stands, 70% of workers don’t wear any hand protection at all.
While effective at guarding against injury, gloves are often bulky and difficult to work with. A worker’s comfort, dexterity and range of movement can be limited when wearing safety gloves. For delicate tasks, a worker will often complain that their work suffers due to a lack of ‘feel’. Just recall the last time you tried to fish keys out of your pocket while wearing bulky winter gloves; your hands are warm for sure, but your hands feel clumsy and awkward.
Despite the relative discomfort and awkwardness of safety gloves, their ability to guard against injury makes them worth wearing. The following three ideas can help you reduce incidents and prevent hand injuries in your workplace.
To ensure workers actually wear the safety gloves provided to them, you need workplace-wide buy-in. And that starts with proper training. This training should cover the five Ws: who needs to wear gloves, when and where they need to be worn, why safety gloves are so important, and what to do with damaged or worn hand protection.
Training should also provide a space for workers to try on their gloves and discuss any feelings they have about loss of dexterity, comfort, fit, and other issues. This will allow the safety manager to address perceptions about safety gloves (such as reinforcing why the added bulk of gloves is worth the trade-off for the additional protection they provide) and to deal with any fit-related problems so that everyone can leave training with the right size of hand protection.
If you’re introducing a new form of hand protection, you have to be committed and be patient even if there is a learning curve where productivity slows while workers get used to working with gloves. The short-term losses will be more than made up for by the health and safety benefits. A staff that wears safety gloves has less injuries, less productivity loss, less time spent re-training, and less money spent on health care costs and insurance premiums.
Additionally, supervisors should be empowered to stop work if it is being done without safety gloves. They should also hold regular toolbox talks about hand safety. Communicative, detail-oriented sessions will engage workers and emphasize the importance of hand safety in the workplace. Supervisors should perform safety glove demonstrations and share real-life stories of incidents in order to further engage workers and communicate hand safety messaging. These measures will demonstrate to workers that wearing gloves is required and will promote the tangible benefits of safety gloves.
Wear the right gloves
A big part of establishing a good safety glove program in your workplace is providing the right gloves for the job. Research the best practices within your industry to find appropriate gloves that guard against the hazards present in your workplace. For example, if employees are doing heavy, high-impact work, look for more padding and protection. For more detail-oriented, technical work, look for gloves that allow for more movement.
One useful way to make sure you’ve got the right glove is to solicit feedback from workers. After all, they’re the ones wearing safety gloves on a daily basis, their opinion is extremely important. By involving them in the process, you’re also signaling to workers that they are valued and their comfort and safety is a priority. Once the right glove has been selected, make sure a robust supply is on hand. Having replacements ready to go is critical; you don’t want to be caught without a pair when a worker brings in a damaged set or misplaces them.
Implement human factors
Human factors training is an important part of any health and safety program. This is particularly true for hand safety. Human factors are hazards created when staff are angry, rushing, tired, complacent or otherwise compromised by physical or mental states. Supervisors are encouraged to highlight the dangers of human factors during toolbox talks and educate staff on how best to guard against them. When it comes to hand safety, provide pertinent examples, like how fatigue can lead to inadvertently putting a hand in the line of fire. Because human factors are so important to hand safety, you can also discuss them as part of other safety glove training.
All staff should be trained to recognize signs of human factors. For glove safety specifically, complacency is a major contributor to hand-related incidents. Workers can feel a false sense of security when they have never had or seen a hand injury in the workplace, and then can become complacent with their glove use. In office settings or similar workplaces where safety gloves are not necessary, human factors training is still important, as even a simple task like opening a box with scissors can be hazardous when a worker is rushing or in another state.
Consider implementing these three hand safety ideas in your workplace to protect your workers’ hands. Providing them with the appropriate PPE and training them to use it, and also educating workers on the role of human factors, will go a long way toward reducing the number and severity of hand-related safety incidents at work.