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Workplace Hand Hazards

Workplace Hand Hazards

Here's a handy checklist to help you identify and control hand hazards in your workplace

Two tools are essential for almost any job you can think of—your hands. It's natural, then, that preventing hand injuries should be high on your list of safety priorities.
Workers' hands are susceptible to many kinds of hazards, including:

Chemical hazards. The hands are the most likely point of contact for hazardous chemicals that can either damage the skin directly (causing irritation, sensitization, and other skin damage) or be absorbed (causing systemic effects from organ damage to cancer).

Chemical burns. A more severe injury than some types of chemical damage, chemical burns occur when the skin comes into contact with acids, caustics, and some other types of strong chemicals

Cuts and lacerations. Severe cuts and lacerations can result from working with machinery and equipment such as cutting and forming equipment (for example, table saws and presses);hand tools (for example, saws and grinders); metal straps or wires used for packaging; sharp or unfinished edges on equipment and even guards; and broken glass.

Abrasions. Severe abrasions, including scrapes and tearing of the skin, can occur when workers use, handle, or work in close proximity to tools and equipment such as sanders, grinders, conveyor belts, and rotating shafts; and rough surfaces (for example, those sometimes found on scrap metal and lumber). 

Puncture wounds. Workers are at risk of puncture wounds when they work with tools and equipment such as drills, nail guns, and even screwdrivers; slivers of metal or wood; and needles, scalpels, capillary tubes, and other medical or laboratory equipment.

Thermal burns. Burns caused by heat can result when workers are involved in hot work (for example, welding, cutting, and brazing operations); working on or near steam equipment (for example, boilers and steam piping); working on or near cooking equipment; and working on or near industrial ovens for baking, drying, or annealing.

Frostbite. Working outside in frigid conditions, or working with cryogenic materials, can freeze the skin and surrounding tissues, potentially causing permanent damage.

Controlling Hand Hazards

Fortunately, there are significant steps you can take to protect workers' hands. For example:

Choose the right gloves. Whether you're choosing chemical protective gloves or gloves to protect workers against abrasion, cuts, and punctures, choose carefully. Not all chemical protective gloves protect against all chemicals. Use the manufacturer's glove selection chart to check your choice. In some situations, work gloves may become entangled and create a greater hazard, so you may need to prohibit their use.

Guard hazards. "Hard guards" can help keep workers' hands away from some types of hazards.

Smooth out the rough spots. Protect against cuts and abrasions by smoothing the edges and surfaces of equipment whenever possible.

Make sure workers use tools. Brushes, push sticks, and other tools can put some distance between a worker's hands and certain hazards.

When Are Gloves a Bad Idea?

    Although gloves are generally viewed as contributing to worker safety, they are a bad idea when workers use machinery with spinning or rotating parts. Gloves are, essentially, an item of "loose clothing" that can be caught and pulled into the machinery, trapping the worker and causing far more serious injury than a splinter or scrape.

Case in Point: An employee was pushing wood through the jointer, holding it upright with his right hand, and pushing it with his left hand. The wood got stuck, so he pushed it back and forth. The glove he was wearing on his left hand caught on the jointer's blade, became entangled, and drew his hand into the blade. The tip of his left little finger was amputated.

As this case demonstrates, if you require or permit workers to wear gloves for some jobs, you must make sure that you clearly identify job tasks and machinery where gloves are forbidden because of the hazards they create.

NOTE: Workers may believe that latex or nitrile gloves are safer than leather or cotton work gloves because they will tear free if caught. Make sure they know this is not true.


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