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Q&A: Preventing Hand Injuries At Your Facility

Not only are there an estimated 110,000 lost time hand injuries annually, but hand injuries send more than one million workers to the emergency room each year. In addition to the physical harm that hand injuries pose to workers, they also have financial implications.

This article previously appeared in IMPO's November/December 2013 issue. 

Brenda Nader serves as senior product supply manager at Kimberly-Clark Professional, located in Roswell, GA, which is a leading provider of hygiene, safety, and productivity solutions. As a safety company, manufacturing companies rely on KCP for safety products that help protect both their employees and the environments they work in. Brenda brings more than 20 years of leadership in environmental, health and safety management, with particular expertise in cross-functional team building, safety management, organizational effectiveness, and lean manufacturing. She is responsible for helping to drive the continuous improvement efforts of the company’s North America mills. 

Q: Can you describe the impact of hand injuries on the manufacturing industry? 

A: While protecting the overall health and well-being of employees should be an employer’s paramount concern, special attention must be paid to preventing hand and finger injuries, which are second only to back strains and sprains in lost work days, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Some studies show that nearly 20 percent of workplace injuries involve cuts and lacerations to the hand and fingers.

Not only are there an estimated 110,000 lost time hand injuries annually, but hand injuries send more than one million workers to the emergency room each year. In addition to the physical harm that hand injuries pose to workers, they also have financial implications. The average hand injury claim has now exceeded $6,000, with each lost time workers compensation claim reaching nearly $7,500, according to the BLS and the National Safety Council.

Q: How can a manufacturer best identify the risks and hazards in their facility?

A: Look to identify trends or patterns related to incidents of hand injuries in your own facilities. A trend analysis should be based on a combination of lagging (reactive) and leading (proactive) performance indicators. For example, a facility could measure the number of reportable hand injuries (lagging), while also measuring the reduction of risks associated with the hazards that contribute to hand injuries (leading). The analysis of these trends enables facility management to gain a better understanding of the types of hand injuries employees are experiencing and what behaviors or work tasks may be leading to those injuries.

Based on the findings of the trend analysis, facilities should be able to identify potential sources of hand injury hazards. Facilities should then take a systematic approach to a formal hand hazard assessment through a job-hazard analysis to ensure that every potential risk and hazard is being monitored, measured, and mitigated. A job-hazard analysis is a technique that focuses on job tasks as a way to identify hazards before they occur. It focuses on the relationship between the worker, the task, the tools, and the work environment. Once a risk has been identified, this analysis should be used to evaluate the risk based on severity, frequency, and probability of occurrence. This component is critical to reducing hand injuries as it identifies uncontrolled hazards and allows for the implementation of procedures to eliminate or mitigate the potential of risk exposures.

Maintaining compliance is critical when working to reduce hand injuries. Periodic audits should be conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of current hand protection strategies and policies, as well as to adjust hand protection requirements as needed. 

Q: How can a manufacturer best institute a prevention plan in relation to hand injuries?

A: The causes of hand and finger injuries can be multi-faceted, including use of non-compliant PPE, failure to recognize hazards, improper work practice controls, and poor employee decision making. To address these challenges, a comprehensive hand care and protection plan should establish requirements to protect employees’ hands to eliminate exposure to risks and hazards before they become a problem, as well as the procedures to be followed by employees and contract personnel whose jobs require the use of hand protection to mitigate their hazard exposure.

To help prevent workplace hand injuries, OSHA states that employers must first explore all possible engineering and work practice controls to eliminate hazards and use PPE to provide additional protection against hazards that cannot be completely eliminated through other means. Protective gloves are a primary means of protecting employees’ hands. In fact, a study conducted by the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety found that glove use significantly reduced hand injuries by 60 percent.

Therefore, the plan should detail how required hand protection meets regulatory standards, while being appropriate in type, model, and size for each identified ‘glove on’ task requiring the use of hand protection. This not only helps improve compliance but also ensures PPE comfort for workers. Furthermore, the plan should ensure that required hand protection be inspected, maintained, in good condition, and used properly.

As part of the developed strategy, manufacturers must be acutely aware that success should be measured not only based on their ability to reduce risky behaviors, but on their ability to connect with the hearts and minds of employees. This approach provides a roadmap for strengthening each facility’s safety culture and building a sense of shared accountability among all employees to identify hazards and at-risk behaviors or attitudes before the occurrence of an incident, such as workers not wearing proper PPE.

The success of the hand care and protection plan program hinges on leadership’s commitment to safety, as well as employees being engaged in the process of creating healthy and safe work environments for themselves and their fellow workers. Only through open dialogue and collaboration are manufacturers able to achieve positive results.

Q: How can a manufacturer make the best PPE selection for hand protection?

A: The variety of potential occupational hand injuries makes selecting the right pair of gloves challenging, according to OSHA, which adds this caution: “It is essential that employees use gloves specifically designed for the hazards and tasks found in their workplace because gloves designed for one function may not protect against a different function, even though they may appear to be an appropriate protective device.” For protection against chemicals, for instance, glove selection must be based on the chemicals encountered as well as the chemical resistance and physical properties of the glove material.

One valuable resource for glove selection is the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) 105-2011 Standard for Hand Protection Selection Criteria. The standard provides a consistent, numeric-scale method for manufacturers to rate their products against certain contaminants and exposures including puncture and abrasion resistance, chemical permeation and degradation, detection of holes, heat and flame resistance, and vibration reduction and dexterity. 

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