Hand injuries are the most common employee injury in the work place.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 358,890 cases of non-fatal injuries to the upper extremities were reported in 2015. Of those injuries, 143,900 involved the hands.
The US Department of Labor confirmed this claim, finding that of all injures reported, injuries to fingers and hands accounted for more than 23%, making them the highest in preventable injuries and in terms of lost work days, they ranked second only to back and neck injuries.
This is especially true in food processing facilities, where it’s not uncommon for employees to work with sharp knives, heavy carts, extremely hot or cold racks, and equipment that can easily crush, maim, or amputate hands.
Seeing as just about every job in a food processing facility requires workers to use their hands, finding better ways to prevent hand injuries is not only good for your workers, it also helps your bottom line.
Hand Injuries Cost BIG
While most hand injuries are not fatal nor as severe as a head injury, they can still cost you a lot.
A National Safety Council study reports that the cost of just one disabling hand or finger injury varies from $540 to $26,000 per patient. With a serious upward extremity trauma averaging $730,000 per incident.
And don’t forget the employee downtime.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that workers who injured their hands in 2015 required a median of 5 days away from work to recuperate.
In case you need a refresher on statistics (like we did!), the median is the value at the midpoint of a data range. Meaning, there is an equal amount of data both above and below it — in the case of hand injuries, that means workers could require anywhere from 0 to 10 days off after experiencing hand injuries.
That employee downtime costs you in ways you might not immediately see — like needing to hire temporary workers (and the time it takes for another worker to train them), training another worker on someone else’s job, product output slow-down, and so on.
Protect The Hands
So how do you reduce the risk of hand injuries — and having to pay out thousands? Easy! Make a small investment in safety upfront.
Proper Safety Training
The best place to start in preventing any injury, including hand injuries, is with proper safety training.
Making workers aware of the dangers present in their position, as well as ways to prevent injury, greatly helps curb the tide of injury.
A study performed by 16 researchers in the United States and Canada found strong evidence that occupational health and safety (OHS) training was effective in changing targeted OSH behaviors, such as changes in postural behaviors, workstation hazards, or ergonomic modifications.
Training goes a long way to prevent injury.
Here are just a few safety behaviors that should be included in your training:
- Personal protective equipment needed for the job
- Proper training on operating equipment
- Safety hazards present in the job and equipment
- How to notice safety hazards
- Correct ergonomics for workstation and equipment
Ergonomics play a big role in preventing hand injuries.
Worker’s hands are often exposed to ergonomic hazards, placing them at risk of disabling injuries to the nerves and soft tissues of the hands and wrists, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, raynaud’s syndrome, tendinitis, or trigger finger.
Introducing ergonomic solutions into your employee’s workflow will greatly reduce the risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders.
Here are a few ways to relieve the ergonomic stressors that can cause hand injuries:
- Soften the point of contact using padding.
- Achieve a neutral write posture (i.e. eliminate bent wrist positions).
- Allow for rest and stretching of stressed tissues and joints.
- Rotate job tasks to reduce repeated or prolonged exposures to the same, repetitve tasks.
- Maintain tools properly.
- Provide protective gloves.
Cut & Heat Resistant Gloves
Equipping your workers with cut and heat resistant gloves goes a long way to prevent injuries.
According to a recent Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) study, 70.9% of hand and arm injuries could have been prevented with personal protective equipment (PPE), specifically safety gloves.
Employees working with knives, blades, or other sharp objects should be required to wear cut-proof or cut-resistant gloves, to prevent cuts and lacerations. Those working around hot surfaces, like carts taken out of a smokehouse, should be equipped with heat resistant gloves to prevent burns.
A small investment in gloves could be the difference between a safe employee and injured one.
Another way to prevent cuts and injuries is to ensure there is proper guarding around all pinch, smash, and cut points, as well as warning signs pointing out the potential of injury.
No matter who careful an employee is, there is always a chance of injury when working around equipment with injury points.
Proper guarding will prevent hands from coming in contact with any point that could cause injury — and keep hands as far away from injury causing points as possible. It’s hard to injury your hands if every point that can cause injury is covered.
Most manufacturers provide safety guarding on the equipment they sell, but older equipment in your plant, especially equipment that may have been modified, likely does not have proper guarding.
Inspect your equipment to see where adequate guarding needs to be added.
This safety tip almost goes without saying, but often needs to be said.
Whenever possible, use handles.
Any carts, trucks, or trees should be moved with handles. When workers place their hands on the outside structure of a cart, truck, or tree, they open themselves up to serious pinch and crush injuries.
It doesn’t take much for a loaded smokehouse cart to crush fingers against a wall or other equipment when workers try to manuever it through the plant. One wrong turn, a cart that is a bit too heavy for the operator, a piece of equipment the operator can’t see, and before you know it, hands are crushed.
Manufacturers design carts, trucks, and trees with handles to prevent those kinds of accidents from happening.
Bonus Tip: Get a PushPal
If your smokehouse, dehydrator, or steam oven trucks or trees don’t have handles, get a PushPal!
The PushPal is an innovative cart safety handle designed in response to a costly operator hand injury caused by gripping a smokehouse cart on the side edges. It easily attaches to any smokehouse truck or tree and locks in place to provide a safety handle to prevent injury.
- Positions operator hands at an ergonomically safe position
- Provides a steady surface to grab onto in the case of a slick or wet floor to prevent slips and falls
- Gives operators better visibility by keeping them upright while pushing
- Eliminates cross contamination that occurs when operators touch produce and screens when grabbing the sides of carts
Reduce the Risk
The five tips above (plus the bonus tip!) will help reduce the risk of hand injuries in your food processing facility — and save you from shelling out thousands in employee injury claims and lawsuits. A small investment in safety today can save you hundreds of thousands of dollars tomorrow.