Of all the workplace claims we get through, hands down (pun intended) one of the most injured areas are the bones in the hands (including wrists, fingers, thumbs and palm). And it's not hard to guess why. We use our hands for everything, everyday so injuries are common and also for this same reason, have a major impact on our client's lives.
We spoke to Safety and Security Specialist Carl Watt from I-Safe – a Division of the Corporate Protection Australia Group - to work out how best to prevent hand injuries in the workplace.
I have worked in a Senior Safety role in Heavy Industry for the last 20 years and one of the most common questions asked of me by managers, employers and colleagues is how do we prevent hand injuries? While I like to think I have the answer, it is certainly not ground-breaking or controversial at all, but what it is, is difficult to implement. This is because it involves people, and people can easily make a silly decision in a heartbeat, and do at regular intervals.
"The only thing that gloves are good for is to provide a nice little bag to contain the injured body parts"
Now I must say up front that the most often used control I have seen on Risk assessments in industry is to wear gloves. Contrary to public opinion, gloves are not a control for protecting hands from crush injuries. Gloves are very good at keeping hands clean from dirt, preventing abrasion type injuries and when worn correctly some styles can protect the hand from exposure to chemical substances. What they do not do is prevent a bone break or penetration injury. In fact a lot of incident investigation photos I have seen in my career have involved a glove of some sort covered in blood.
A previous supervisor of mine once said to me, “The only thing that a glove is good for regarding a crush or penetration style injury is to provide a nice little bag to contain the injured body parts”. Kind of gruesome I know but he made an excellent point.
Real life demonstrations that resonate with employees seem to work the best.
A fun exercise I used to run in a General Safety induction I was responsible for a few years ago was to take some electrical tape, and get a couple of volunteers and tape up fingers and thumbs on their dominant hands. I would then ask them to do some mundane daily tasks like undoing their fly to go to the toilet or do up a pair of shoelaces, or even pick up a knife and fork to feed themselves. Once the laughter would die down, I would make the link to the exercise and what would occur to you if you were to be unable to use your hands - it was a sobering thought to say the least.
People make unsafe decisions all the time, they need to be aware that the management of their business is openly committed to their personnel always having the time to complete a task safely, and more over it is a non-negotiable part of their employment. If an employer says nothing in regard to safety, then operational needs will always take priority.
Be clear with your team, you have the time to complete a Pre-Task Hazard Assessment (PTHA), you have time to identify and control hazards, and you are more likely to get in trouble for not doing this important planning work than you are if you get hurt. How does it pay off? Most employers ask. Well when you take into account things like work cover and rehabilitation costs, committing people to completing investigations or even the public scrutiny in the social media when injuries occur at a workplace - any money you invest in preventing these injuries is well spent.
"Don’t put your hands anywhere you wouldn’t put your old fella!"
A contractor in a safety meeting a few years ago said to me, it’s easy, don’t put your hands anywhere you wouldn’t put your old fella! (referring to his genitals). Again, rather graphic, but in the long run it is a great way to think. The key to this is a quality PTHA (Take 5 or Slam) that focuses on identifying pinch points. Once identified, the work required is avoiding contact with these pinch points.
Here is a test that you can run to help prevent hand injuries at work.
Roll a pencil off a table in front of another person. Their natural response is to reach down and catch it when it falls, and then if they miss it with their hand, they try to catch it with their foot. That's fine with a pencil, but if it is something larger or heavier…well you have problems. This mentality seems to be bred into us: that we are prepared to put a part of our own body in harm’s way to save an inanimate object from falling…just let it go!
The best version of this I have seen is the implementation of some pinch point stickers, that can clearly identify the source of the hazard and if it can’t be fixed straight away, the details are added to a register as a part of a Safety Improvement program so that a budget can be found to implement the relevant controls to remove the hazard from the workplace.
This system requires support from the employer as there is some financial support required to prevent hand injuries by eliminating hazards. Plus employees need to know that they are not wasting their time by identifying these hazards only to see the rest of the system fall over due to no support from the people paying the bills.
The best results I've seen was on a site I worked at that implemented this system for the identification and elimination of hand injuries/pinch points onsite. They'd just had a horror run of 16 hand injuries in 6 months. Then they went to no hand injuries for a 3-year period afterwards. It can be done!