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April 04, 2014
Put the finger on 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 any list of safety priorities. Here’s a handy checklist to help you identify and control hazards in your workplace that can cause injuries to workers’ hands.

Identifying hand hazards

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

Protect workers’ hands by:

  • Choosing the right glove. 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.
  • Guarding hazards. “Hard guards” can help keep workers’ hands away from some types of hazards.
  • Smoothing out the rough spots. Protect against cuts and abrasions by smoothing the edges and surfaces of equipment whenever possible.
  • Using tools. Brushes, push sticks, and other tools can put some distance between the worker’s hands and certain hazards.
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