Hand Safety at Work Starts in Your Head
It takes more than PPE. Keeping your hands safe at work is an exercise in mindfulness, too.
Pay attention! Two simple words that demand action, issue a warning, and perhaps even save you from serious injury or death. Why is it so hard for us to maintain focus?
Minds wander. It’s part of our nature as human beings. You come to work, grab a quick cup of coffee and start on your first task of the day: cutting plywood. Before you know it, you’ve mentally reviewed half of your to-do list, fantasized about your upcoming vacation, practiced the talk you need to have with your boss, and... cut off your little finger!
Routine tasks lull us into a sense of safety. “I know what I’m doing. I don’t need to pay close attention.” Maintaining your concentration when you’re tired, bored, or distracted is extremely difficult, but even more critical to staying safe. In order to practice hand safety at work, start with your head.
Reverse-Engineer Safety Into Your Workplace Culture
Safety shouldn’t be an afterthought; it should be the foundation of all the work done in your organization. Training workers in safe work practices, complying with safety rules and regulations, enforcing the use of PPE, and making safety every worker’s responsibility will ensure a safer workplace.
Watch this brief video to understand the importance of mindset in keeping hands safe when working with tools and dangerous machinery:
A safety mindset that involves planning a job, thinking through the tasks required, identifying potential safety hazards, and having workers cooperate in working safely is the best way to create a safety culture – a culture that dramatically increases the likelihood that everyone goes home safe at the end of their shift.
Don’t just avoid danger – think ahead and anticipate it. Review the individual tasks that make up an entire job. Where are the dangers? Is there new, unfamiliar equipment? Time for some training. Do close quarters require extra attentiveness? Make sure everyone understands the danger and how to work safely under these conditions.
To keep your hands and fingers safe, be aware of where they are and what they are doing at all times. This video demonstrates how one moment of inattentiveness during routine tasks leads to injury:
What makes the tools your crew uses dangerous to their hands? Are there pinch points? Sharp edges? Points that can easily puncture flesh? Hot or cold spots that can burn hands? Make sure that your workers have the safest tools for the job at hand. Research available tools and look for those that have safety engineered into their design.
Train your workers to think about safety before each task. Explain how easily routine thinking leads to danger. Have them look at their tasks with fresh eyes by thinking in terms of “what if.” Such as, “What if I started working on this electrical power control panel and it was energized?” This will prompt them to ensure the panel is completely de-energized, locked, and tagged out before starting the job.
(Learn more in Lockout Tagout: 6 Essential Elements.)
Assess the Dangers
Train your workers to think with a worst-case scenario mindset. Before they pick up, plug in, or turn on any tool, have them think about what would happen if everything went wrong. This will prompt them to ensure that all conditions are safe before they start:
- Assess the environment: Is everything the way it should be? Are the floors dry? Are proper warning labels in place? Do they have the proper PPE?
- Assess the tools: Are they in good working order? Are electrical cords in good condition? Are tools being used as intended? Wrenches are not hammers and knives are not screwdrivers.
- Assess the mindset: Do they understand the job? Are they focused? Are they distracted? Unsure about their skills? Have they been thoroughly trained? If they have any uncertainty about what the job requires or their skills, make sure they know they can come to you for advice or training without fear of embarrassment.
The Importance of Mindfulness
There is a famous Zen proverb about the importance of keeping your mind on the task at hand: “When walking, walk. When eating, eat.”
Keeping your mind focused on the task at hand is the surest way to keep your hands and fingers safe. Make sure that you’re familiar with the task and all the policies and work procedures you need to follow to accomplish it safely.
To do anything well, you need to focus all your attention and energy on doing that one thing. If you try to do multiple activities at the same time, none of them get done well. If you allow distractions to enter your mind, nothing may get done, as your mind journeys into a daydream. To keep your hands safe, just remember: When working, work.