Top 10 Hazards to Your Hands (And How to Protect Against Them)
Safety gloves go a long way to keeping our hands safe, but they should never work alone. Here are other measures you can take to protect your hands on the job.
Our hands are one of our most important tools. They're precise and incredibly versatile.
They're also quite vulnerable. Because they're at the center of all the work we do, our hands are at high risk of injury.
In this article, we'll look at the top ten hazards that put your hands at risk - and what you can do to protect them.
1. Pinch Points
A pinch point is any point where hands and fingers can be caught and pinched, such as two objects or the moving parts of a machine.
The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) lists several types of machines and devices that have hazardous pinch points, including:
- Power presses
- Robotic machines
- Metal-forming machines
- Printing presses
- Powered doors
Workers should be aware of the pinch points in their working environment. It's important for them to pay close attention and be mindful to keep their hands away from those points.
In some cases, machine guards can be installed to reduce the likelihood of a worker coming into contact with the pinch points on a piece of equipment. Workers should be advised against tampering, removing, or circumventing these guards, even if doing so would allow them to complete their work more quickly.
Workers should also remember to:
- Pay attention when reaching into equipment to remove materials - always ensure the equipment is correctly chocked before reaching in to grab anything
- Exercise caution when attaching any type of equipment - use tools to keep hands away from the pinch points
- When rigging, wear appropriate, well-fitting rigging gloves, and make sure the hands are clear before tightening
- Use handles to open vehicle doors, cabinets, and drawers
(Learn more in 6 Things to Look for When Selecting Machine Guards)
2. Sharp Objects
Sharp tools and blades are an integral part of most industrial work. While necessary, they introduce a number of hazards, including lacerations, punctures, and even amputation.
Hand tools with blades range from knives and scissors to tin snips, hacksaws, and cutting and grinding blades. Any worker using a cutting tool of any kind must wear appropriate safety gloves such as cut-resistant or mesh gloves as well as any other required personal protective equipment (PPE) while performing the task.
Workers handling sharp tools and objects should always:
- Choose the right tool for the job
- Keep cutting tools sharp, as dull tools can result in accidents
- Maintain tools according to the manufacturer's instructions
- Inspect tools before each use to ensure they are in good condition and free of nicks or other defects
- Use a tool kit or tool belt to carry sharp tools
- When handling cutting tools, keep the blade pointed toward the ground and away from oneself and other people
- When passing a sharp tool to someone else, give it handle-first
- Store cutting tools properly and separate them from other tools to protect them from damage and accidental contact with people
3. Trips and Falls
According to the National Safety Council (NSC), falls resulted in 880 workers fatalities and 244,000 serious injuries requiring days off from work in 2019. While these incidents can injure any part of the body, the hands are particularly vulnerable since we instinctively extend them to brace ourselves for the impact of the fall.
The best way to protect hands from fall-related injuries is to make use of personal fall arrest systems (PFASs) when working at height and to take measures to prevent falls from occurring in the first place. These include:
- Using the right safety equipment
- Scanning the work area for potential tripping hazards
- Avoiding work in wet or icy conditions
- Installing guardrails where appropriate
- Using ladders of the right height, ensuring that they are secure, and using the three point rule when climbing them
- Wearing footwear that provides sufficient grip
- Practicing good housekeeping and keeping the work area clean of debris
4. Repetitive Strain Injuries
Many jobs have a certain amount of monotony built into them. They involve tasks that have to be performed over and over, often in the exact same manner. This is the case from desk jobs involving hours spent at a computer to the assembly line where the same parts are fitted together over and over.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is the most common repetitive strain injury, affecting more than 8 million people in the United States. The symptoms progress from slight discomfort to severe pain and, eventually, the inability to use the hands.
Carpal tunnel syndrome can be prevented by taking the following measures:
- Keeping the wrist in a relaxed, straight, neutral position while working
- Taking regular short breaks to rest the hands
- Organizing work to perform varying tasks throughout the shift
- Preventing direct impact on the palm by distributing it to a larger area
- Wearing the right ergonomic aids (gloves, wrist, and elbow supports) to protect the hands and wrist
5. Line-of-Fire Hazards
A line-of-fire incident occurs when a part of the body is in the way of an object that can move and possibly make contact. These accidents can be minor, like hitting a thumb with a hammer, or far more serious, like being caught and crushed in a pair of rollers.
The following precautions can be taken to prevent line-of-fire incidents:
- Exercise extreme caution around heavy and moving machinery
- Respect the danger zones and keep a safe distance from the equipment
- Ensure machine guards are in place before operating any equipment
- Do not remove or manipulate any guards without consent
- Use the right PPE for the task being performed
6. Defective Equipment
Defective tools and equipment can cause serious and painful injuries. If a tool or machine is defective in any way, use should be discontinued immediately.
Defects include problems such as:
- Improper grounding
- Inoperative machine guards
- Defective power switches
- Cracked tool blades
- Incorrect grinder wheels
Before using a machine or tool, workers should always:
- Inspect the equipment for defects
- Ensure that all appropriate safeguards are in place
- Perform regular maintenance on the equipment
- Remove any defective item from use - tag out defective tools so they can be serviced, repaired, or discarded
7. Rotating/Moving Equipment Hazards
It only takes brief and slight contact with rotating and moving equipment to suffer a serious injury. Getting caught in one of these machines can cost a worker their life. Fatal accidents involving these pieces of equipment can start with something seemingly innocusious like a sleeve touching a moving part and pulling someone in.
Since the hands are most likely to the be the first point of contact with moving equipment, they're at high risk of debilitating injury. To prevent these incidents, take the following precautions:
- Wear properly fitting PPE when working around machinery and don't wear any loose-fitting clothes
- Do not wear jewelry, such as chains, bracelets, and rings - these can get caught in the equipment as well
- Make sure all equipment is properly guarded and never remove or block a machine guard
- Follow the established lockout/tagout procedure before making adjustments or doing repairs on the equipment
- Know the location of the emergency stop on all the machinery
8. Extreme Cold
Extreme cold is a hazard faced by those working outdoors, in workplaces with poor insulation, or in cold facilities such as large walk-in freezers. In these conditions, the extremities, including the fingers and hands, are vulnerable to frostbite, resulting in a loss of feeling in the affected area and potential permanent tissue damage.
To protect the hands from the effects of the cold:
- Schedule outdoor work for the warmer months
- Schedule outdoor work during the warmer hours of the day
- Provide insulated, cold-resistant gloves
- Erect windbreaks or enclosures
- Include chemical hot packs in first-aid kits
- Provide training on cold weather hazards
9. Chemical Hazards
Workers across industries handle chemicals that can cause damage to their hands. Depending on the particular substance, exposure can result in irritation, burns, or other types of injuries.
In these situations, PPE is your friend. Workers should be equipped with gloves that are rated for the chemicals they may come in contact with.
The gloves should also allow for the grip and dexterity needed to handle the chemical containers without accidentally dropping, tipping, or splashing them.
It can be easy for workers to zone out during work, especially when the tasks they perform are dull and repetitive. Distraction and loss of concentration can result in negligent behavior.
The best way to ensure that workers remain vigiliant is to make sure they are highly aware of the hazards present in their job.
Education, training, and toolbox talks will give your workers the awareness they need to remain mindful of the hazards around them and the measures they need to take to keep their hands safe.