Best Practices for Reducing Hand Injuries
by Joe Tavenner
It’s a common joke that duct tape can fix anything. We often believe our hands can do the same. When we don’t have a wrench, our hands fit the bill. Can’t get into a location with a standard tool? Our hands can get into the tight spot and fix the problem. When our hands become our universal duct tape, we increase the risk of injury by losing focus.
To reduce the risk of injury, one should take the following steps:
1) Find the right gloves;
2) Keep your eyes on your hands;
3) Make it visible; and
4) Utilize end user leading indicators.
Find the right gloves
Find an expert
Safety gloves have been evolving quickly over the last few years. The number of options you have today far exceed those of just a few years ago. To ensure you have the best combination of protection and value, find an expert. Finding a salesperson who specializes, understands and has the knowledge to provide the best that’s out there is a key component to reducing hand injuries.
Try, try, try
Have employees try gloves being considered for an extended period of time, asking for feedback along the way. Getting feedback from users involves them in the process, thereby increasing ownership. In many cases, the difference between a successful implementation and an unsuccessful one can be the amount of ownership employees feel they have. If you involve them in the decision-making process, address concerns and utilize their feedback, a smooth transition often follows.
Say “thank you”
It is very easy to get caught up in day-to-day activities and forget to say thank you. When you have employees that take the time to help support the glove evaluation process, don’t forget to say thank you. Often, small rewards provided frequently can keep them feeling valued and drive participation.
Stock your gloves
Many times, we put all our effort into finding the right glove and forget to make it easy for users to access them. When employees can’t find required gloves, their perception soon becomes negative and a disconnection develops between management expectations and employee perceptions. Developing a successful glove-stocking program is critical to reducing hand injuries.
Keep your eye on the hand
Many times, hand injuries occur when we take our eyes off the task. This is as simple as putting our hands into areas of which we don’t have a line of sight. To stay focused on the task, a mental checklist should be used. By taking the time to think through the task beforehand, safe alternatives can be considered. This visualization technique is both tried and true.
Some examples: Do you have all the needed tools for the job? When you don’t have the tools you need, it is common practice to substitute your hands. Think about what you need before you start the job. If you don’t, your hand could quickly become the tool of choice. Can you see your hands during the task? When one hand is out of sight, it can quickly enter pinch points or other high-risk areas.
This is especially true when using two hands to complete a task while focusing your attention on only one. Think about what could go wrong and plan for it. You may think this is simplistic, but it happens all the time. Are good, safe practices being used? Following your business and regulatory requirements is a cornerstone of staying safe.
Make it visible
When driving in a car, a red light means stop and a green light means go. When you see these colours, you react appropriately to avoid accidents. You can use the same methodology to reinforce safe behaviours.
When looking at the source of many lacerations, box-style knives are often brought up. In recent years, many styles have been developed that offer advanced safety features. While these are great solutions, you may want to consider adding a colour trigger. Paint it red to let everyone know they are dangerous. Implement a slogan and develop a sustainable communication program to build repetition into the message. As the system matures, build on it to address new challenges.
Making high-risk tasks visible can help remind employees to stay focused on the task. Consistently repeating why they have been painted and how you want at-risk employees to behave keeps the message fresh on their minds. As the program grows, it soon becomes an easy way to remind employees to stay safe.
Utilize end-user leading indicators
When focusing on hand injuries, one of the best ways to help drive improvements is to develop leading indicators to measure them. Typically, leading indicators might involve looking at how many employees are wearing the proper hand protection or another like method. While that is valuable information, it typically yields a number that is meaningful to management, but meaningless to end-user employees.
Those that are at the most risk feel little-to-no ownership in the numbers being generated. Consider bridging the gap by generating end-user leading indicators. When you develop metrics that have meaning to end users, it is very easy for them to get involved and drive safe behaviours. An example of an end-user leading indicator might be how many box-knife red lights were found during housekeeping inspections.
As we reviewed above, we identified red with box knives, developed a slogan to communicate expectations and now measure it with a leading indicator called “red lights”. By using an end-user leading indicator, you close the loop in the implementation process by generating data that is easily understood and supported by all employees.
None of the approaches outlined in this article are meant to replace regulatory obligations or good, standard operating procedures. However, supplementing your existing programs with solid approaches can help reduce hand injuries. Consider further developing these concepts to fit your organization’s needs.
Joe Tavenner, CSP, CFPS holds a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in occupational safety management and an MBA in management. He is currently the corporate director of safety for bread manufacturer King’s Hawaiian in Atlanta.