In 2021, 19.2 % of accepted claims were related to hand injuries. Our hands are critical to the functioning of our daily work and lives and, as a result, are often the first part of our bodies exposed to hazardous conditions such as extreme cold or heat, sharp edges, pinch points, electricity, chemicals etc. Even a small cut can end up being more than an inconvenience and cause serious issues. Hand injuries can have a temporary or sometimes permanent impact on our lives unless we take daily care to protect our hands, fingers, and wrists to prevent injuries from happening. Common types of hand injuries include:
- Cold temperatures: coming from exposure to cold temperatures, frost bite and frost nip can mean permanent loss of functionality over limbs, and even amputation.
- Burns and scalds: whether from hot steam, fire, electrical sources, or chemicals, burns can also mean temporary or permanent loss of functionality,
- Cuts or crushing injuries: these can come from the use of power tools, something as common as scissors, closing your fingers in a door, or butchering meat.
- Fractures or breaks: these types of injuries can occur due to a fall, by being hit by an object, or by getting caught in machinery.
- Rashes or skin irritations: caused by handling chemicals, biological irritants, or contagious diseases, these injuries can cause irritation, or permanent disability.
- Ergonomic Injuries: if you are using tools that are too big, too small, or in an awkward position for your hands and arms, it can cause a musculoskeletal injury.
- Needle sticks: common to those working in the medical field, these injuries can come when you least expect it. The chance of infection from a contagious disease makes this type of injury more than just a simple puncture wound.
For all of these types of injuries, we can focus on preventative techniques to avoid injury. We always advise that you start with your safety checks, also called your risk assessment and hazard assessments. What is it in your daily work practice that poses a risk to workers? Concerning hand injuries, you might consider:
- In a restaurant – meat cutters, powered equipment (a mixer), knives, peelers, mandolins, chemicals for cleaning, etc.
- On a construction site – saws, drills, sanders, solvents and other chemicals, etc.
- On the land – setting snares, cutting wood, doing repairs to your cabin, etc.
- In an office – scissors, paper cutters, staplers, etc.
- In a retail store - box cutters, scissors, cleaning products, and potentially a variety of other sources depending on what you sell.
- Medical facility – needle sticks, or cuts from other medical implements like a scalpel or scissors.
Protection hands from injuries
It is important to understand where all the hazards are, so you can make a plan to make the workplace safer. If there is an unexpected hazard, like something that is broken, a nail that is poking out of the wall, or even just sharp tools that are being stored openly when they don’t need to be, remove them if possible. Elimination is ALWAYS the best way to make a hazard safer.
For all hazards that are a necessary part of the work day, there are still several things that you can do to make the workplace safer.
- Ensure that you have safe work practices that are accessible to all workers. Use these practices and procedures to help train new staff and to use as a refresher for employees working through their day to day activities.
- Many types of powered equipment and machinery will require guards and lockout devices. Have a regular process that includes safety checks to verify that all of these protections are in place and functioning properly. Make sure every employee is trained and understands how to use them properly.
- Consider when PPE will help protect workers, or when it may add an additional hazard.
Understand the task you are doing, and what hand protection would be appropriate. While these are not all considered PPE, there are many different types of gloves and devises that will work towards protecting workers in many conditions:
- Kitchens – cut resistant gloves like neoprene may be appropriate for certain tasks like using a mandolin, or even simple plastic gloves for washing dishes and cleaning.
- Construction – Canadian Safety Association (CSA) rated work gloves are available for many tasks that construction workers take on.
- On the Land – Tools (knives) that are in good working order, gloves and equipment suited for the task, a portable first aid kit.
- Office Environments – plastic finger tips for flipping through paper.
- Retail – simple gloves for opening and unpacking supplies, and possibly also plastic gloves for cleaning.
- Medical – approved medical grade gloves.
It is important to remember that hand protection and gloves MAY at times create a hazard that will contribute to a hand injuries? If gloves do not fit properly, or are not suitable for the task, you may actually put your employees at greater risk. Tasks like working with a power tool, or working with electrical equipment require additional thought and preparation. Power tools may be more likely to catch on work gloves, and gloves with any metalized material will pose a greater risk of electrocution to anyone working in and around power. Carefully review your safety checks before selecting the correct protection.
For resources on hand injuries and how to prevent them, see:
- Hand Injury Toolbox Talk – Video (only available in English)
- Kitchen Safety: Preventing Cuts from Knives – Video
- When to wear Gloves - Video
- Hand and Arm Protection – a Code of Practice on PPE for hand and arm injury prevention.
- Knives and Sharp Tools - Young Workers Toolbox Talks – Instructor and Student
- Cold Stress – Toolbox talk on preventing frostbite and injuries related to cold weather conditions.
- Hand Tool Ergonomics – a guide created by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS)
- Needle Sticks – a guide created by CCOHS