OSHA – and common sense – help us to guard against injuries.
By Evan Gurley
In day-to-day activities, we tend to take our hands for granted, but where would we be without them? Their 27 bones and numerous ligaments, muscles, tendons, nerves and blood vessels, plus skin and nails provide the strength and dexterity that enable us to perform routine tasks with precise movements on and off the job. In the precast industry, hand injuries generally result from physical or chemical hazards that result in burns, bruises, abrasions, cuts, punctures, fractures, amputations and chemical exposures.
Though hand injuries are not typically fatal, they are second in number only to back strains and sprains, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This means that injuries to the fingers and hands make up roughly 20% of all workplace injuries.
What OSHA says about hand & finger safety
OSHA has made it clear that hand and finger safety is an important topic for employers to address, as hand injuries are prevalent in the workplace and very much preventable. In fact, OSHA specifically addresses hand safety:
- OSHA 1910.138(a). Employers shall select and require employees to use appropriate hand protection when employees’ hands are exposed to hazards such as those from skin absorption of harmful substances; severe cuts or lacerations; severe abrasions; punctures; chemical burns; thermal burns; and harmful temperature extremes.
- OSHA 1910.138(b). Employers shall base the selection of the appropriate hand protection on an evaluation of the performance characteristics of the hand protection relative to the task(s) to be performed, conditions present, duration of use, and the hazards and potential hazards identified.
In addition to current standards addressing hand safety, OSHA has announced recent changes to its reporting and recordkeeping requirements. The rule, 29 CFR 1904, effective as of Jan. 1, 2015, revised two key elements, one directly related to recording and reporting hand/finger-related injuries. Under the revised rule, employers are now required to notify OSHA of work-related in-patient hospitalizations, amputations and eye loss within 24 hours of the event.
Previously, OSHA’s regulations required an employer to report in-patient hospitalizations of three or more employees, and reporting single hospitalizations was not required. Of particular importance, fingertip amputations, regardless of bone loss, must now also be reported to OSHA within 24 hours of the incident.
Speaking on the benefits of the new OSHA requirements, Dr. David Michaels, OSHA’s assistant secretary of labor, said, “OSHA will now receive crucial reports of fatalities and severe work-related injuries and illness that will significantly enhance the agency’s ability to target our resources to save lives and prevent further injury and illness. This new data will enable the agency to identify the workplaces where workers are at the greatest risk and target our compliance assistance and enforcement resources accordingly.
“Hospitalizations and amputations are sentinel events,” Michaels added, “indicating that serious hazards are likely to be present at a workplace, and that an intervention is warranted to protect the other workers at the establishment.”
This should pique precasters’ interest, because it signals that OSHA will be looking more closely at these types of injuries. If the new reporting and recordkeeping requirements are not followed, fines will follow.
Don Graham, director of safety with Jensen Precast, puts a finer point on it. “If you call OSHA after you determine the condition of the employee and it is not within the time frame OSHA has outlined (8 hours for fatalities and 24 hours for all work-related in-patient hospitalizations, amputations and loss of an eye), this could result in a fine of up to $5,000,” he said.
Types of hand hazards
The first step in understanding the potential risk of hand and finger injuries is to understand the hazards present in the workplace. Once the types of hand injuries have been identified and evaluated, it is then possible to apply control measures to prevent injuries.
Workers’ hands are susceptible to many kinds of hazards, including:
- Mechanical: These are situations where hands and fingers can get caught, pinched, crushed or severed in tools, equipment, machines, structures and vehicles, chains, rollers, gears or other moving parts.
- Contact: These hazards cause hands and fingers to get cut on sharp edges of tools, materials, packaging, containers or even debris from a manufacturing process. These hazards also include electrical current, chemicals, and extreme hot and cold temperatures.
- Personal: These hazards include wearing jewelry, loose clothing, or using improper or defective personal protective equipment.
Hand injuries are preventable
Two important and related elements in any plant safety program are hazard identification and risk assessment. Precasters should be putting a greater focus on hazards that carry a higher probability of occurrence and the potential for more severe outcomes. When looking for high risk exposures, it may be easy to overlook some of the more common injuries. Hand injuries sometimes fall into this category.
The best way to prevent an injury at the plant is to make sure it never has a chance of happening in the first place by performing a hazard assessment of the work area (see the sidebar “Prevention Tips”). This program should clearly identify pinch points, hot spots, rotating equipment and automated machinery. Likewise, the assessment should include engineering controls – guarding, safety switches, etc. – that can also prevent incidents.
OSHA requires a written certification that a hazard assessment has been performed. However, there is no requirement that the hazard assessment itself be in writing. Most professionals would suggest, however, that written documentation of the actual assessment would be a best practice. It will help the plant identify dangers that cause hand injuries and help determine what steps can be taken to eliminate, control or protect against them.
Hand injuries are costly
BLS and National Safety Council statistics indicate that:
- Approximately 110,000 lost-time hand injuries are reported annually
- Hand injuries send more than 1 million workers to the emergency room each year
The following are cost approximations associated with hand injuries:
- Average hand injury claim exceeds $6,000
- Each lost time workers’ compensation claim is roughly $7,500
- Direct cost of laceration: $10,000
- Stitches: $2,000 plus indirect costs
- Butterfly: $300
- Severed Tendon: > $70,000
- Average reported hand injury results in six days away from work
- More than 50% of all fingertip amputations result in 18 or more days away from work
Taking Gloves Seriously
Wearing the proper gloves has been proven to reduce the relative risk of injury by 60%. This is still the most effective way of reducing most hand injuries.BLS and National Safety Council statistics indicate that
- 70% of workers who experienced hand injuries were not wearing gloves
- The remaining 30% of injured workers did wear gloves, but experienced injuries because the gloves were inadequate, damaged or the wrong type for the hazard
Many types of gloves are available to protect against a wide variety of hazards. The nature of the hazard and the operation involved should dictate the selection of gloves, although the variety of potential occupational hand injuries makes selecting the right pair of gloves challenging. It is essential that employees use gloves specifically designed for the hazards and tasks found in their workplace.
Some of the factors that may influence the selection of protective gloves for a workplace are:
- Type of chemicals handled
- Nature of contact
- Duration of contact
- Area requiring protection
- Grip requirements
- Thermal protection
- Size and comfort
- Abrasion/resistance requirements
In general, gloves fall into four groups:
- Leather, canvas or metal mesh
- Fabric and coated fabric
- Chemical- and liquid-resistant
- Insulating rubber
OSHA outlines the various types of gloves available depending on the nature of the hazard and the operation involved. You can find this information at osha.gov/Publications/osha3151.html.
“At Jensen Precast, our employees perform numerous tasks while working with concrete, polymers and various types of metal,” Graham said. “The one item all these varied tasks have in common is the PPE hazard assessment. We use a job hazard analysis to identify hazards for every job, then we apply engineering controls to eliminate the hazard.”
If the hazard for the hand cannot be eliminated, then a PPE assessment is done to determine the correct hand protection, usually a glove of some type.
Graham added that the gloves must be the correct size for each person using them, and each person must receive documented training on gloves. “The training must cover limitations of the glove, care and use, and how to properly dispose of them,” he said.
“In the past, we have had safety meetings using hot dogs with pencils to demonstrate pinch points, smashed fingers and hands, and cuts and bruises,” said Scott McIntosh with Wilbert Precast in Spokane, Wash. “This simple demonstration in front of the crew shows what can happen to fingers when proper hand and finger care isn’t taken.”
“We do not have a specific hand safety program in place, but we do read current literature on the subject to employees, give examples of applications in the plant, review guidelines and ask if there are any questions,” said Dave Garcia, Contractors Precast Corp. in Davidsonville, Md. “This is done once a month at our safety toolbox talk. If someone is spotted doing something that is potentially dangerous or improper for hand safety, it is addressed immediately, then brought up again on Friday while handing out paychecks. Payday is a great time for the plant manager and his team to discuss issues from the week and give safety reminders and tips!”
For mechanical hazards:
- Work at a smart pace. The frequency of hand injuries is proportional to how quickly you work.
- Stay alert! Always watch what your hands are doing.
- Use a push stick to feed a circular saw or other power tools.
- Know how to handle tools and equipment in use.
- Don’t take shortcuts.
- Control panels should be designed, installed and guarded to reduce the risk of accidents.
- Wear gloves when using items like knives and box cutters and always cut away from your body.
- Use tools that are the right size and type for the job being performed.
- Don’t work with oily or greasy hands.
For contact hazards:
- Use gloves appropriate for the job and temperature.
- Keep the insides of gloves clean. Contaminants inside gloves can cause blisters and burns.
- Let hot surfaces cool before working on them.
- Keep containers correctly labeled and understand the manufacturer’s handling instructions.
- Wash hands well with soap and warm water or use special cleansers, especially after direct contact with a chemical substance.
For personal hazards:
- Wearing rings at work is considered unsafe. If the ring is forced off or breaks, it may pull the flesh from the finger or amputate it.