OHS Canada Magazine

Exploring the most common hand injuries

We take our hands and fingers for granted – right up until we lose them


January 14, 2020
By Joe Geng
Joe Geng
Categories
Health & Safety
Occupational Hygiene

The following is adapted from the book Rethinking Hand Safety: Myths, Truths and Proven Practices, launched Jan. 14.

I want you to try something.

Tape the index and middle finger of your dominant hand together. Now try to type out an email or tie your shoe or simply sign your name.

Difficult, right?

This exercise provides just a small glimpse at the difficulties people face when they lose a finger.

We have 10 fingers, and it might seem that losing just one isn’t a big deal, but such an injury can have severe, lifelong consequences.

Lost fingers are just one of the ways hands can be damaged. In fact, the hand is the most commonly injured part of the upper body with thousands of industrial hand injuries reported each year.

In order to properly protect workers’ hands and prevent these injuries, you must be aware of the many different ways hands can be harmed. Only by being aware of the potential dangers can you begin to take the necessary precautions to prevent injuries before they happen.

Below is a list of the most common types of hand injuries:

Cuts: Human skin is thin and sharp edges are everywhere. That makes cuts the overwhelming No. 1 issue on the list of hand injuries. Cuts can be minor or deep, cutting through ligaments, veins or whole fingers.

Pinch points: Tools and equipment — especially moving machinery — create tight spaces that crush, twist and tear whole hands.

Lost fingers: This issue is common around rotating equipment and in food processing.

Impacts and crushings: These injuries are a result of tools, machinery or materials smacking down — usually on the top of the hand. These injuries are a major — if an often-overlooked — danger to working hands. They are especially common in construction, as well as oil and gas work, where people are handling big wrenches, pipes and equipment.

Abrasions: Even if they don’t catch a finger or a hand, moving parts like gears and lathes can abrade and tear at skin.

Repetitive injuries: Repetitive tasks can cause injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome. These injuries are some of the most insidious because they go unnoticed as they develop slowly.

Heat: Welding torches, foundry metals, plastics molding and the hot moving parts of machines can burn deeply.

Cold: Cold temperatures can cause frostbite, which can cause nerve damage requiring amputation in severe cases.

Chemicals: Like lubricating oils and metal-handling fluids of all kinds, chemicals can burn you immediately or cause serious conditions like cancer with long-term exposure.

Electricity: Electricity can kill.

Vibration: One common injury often overlooked by safety managers is hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS), a condition that affects hands working with pneumatic tools like jackhammers or vibrating machinery-like grinders. HAVS can cause neurological disorders, even vascular and skeletal problems. With HAVS, you get white fingers and you lose feeling.

We take our hands and fingers for granted — right up until we lose them.

There is one simple, obvious way to protect against these hand injuries — gloves. There is far more to safety than personal protective equipment (PPE), but gloves can go a long way toward protecting workers’ hands.

In the past years, there have been huge advances in the quality and capability of gloves.

You can get gloves with cut, abrasion, puncture or impact resistance. You can get gloves that mitigate the effects of vibration. You can get gloves that protect from heat and against various chemicals.

Don’t wait until it’s too late. Invest in the proper gloves for your workers now and start saving some hands.

Joe Geng is the author of Rethinking Hand Safety and vice-president of Superior Glove in Acton, Ont.