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Give Them a Hand: Preventing Workplace Hand Lacerations

Mar 4, 2008
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 250,000 serious hand, finger and wrist injuries occur in the private industry annually. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also estimates that approximately 111,000 workers with hand and finger injuries lose days away from work annually - second only to back strain and sprain.

Hand injuries are no light matter, especially in industries where hand tools play a predominant role in the day-to-day operations of a business. In fact, OSHA statistics indicate that more than 10 percent of all on-the-job injuries involve the use or misuse of hand tools. While hand tools are common, many workers do not appreciate the possibility of injury when using them.

Researchers at the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety, in collaboration with colleagues at the Harvard School of Public Health, conducted a study of occupational acute hand injuries. The risk of a hand injury was significantly elevated when working with equipment, tools, or work pieces not performing as expected, when using a different work method to do a task, doing an unusual task, being distracted, and/or rushed.

When addressing the task of reducing the risk of lacerations, employers should consider two elements: the tools and the person using the tool. While the use of tools, such as box cutters or utility knives, can and does heighten the risk of injury in the workplace, it's most often the worker's behavior that contributes to the injury. Nothing can replace solid training with hand tools to help prevent future injuries, as well as an attitude of vigilance when enforcing workplace safety.

To begin, employers and managers should ensure that the workplace environment has been made as safe as possible. Equipment and products should be inspected for sharp hazards on a regular basis. Managers should also eliminate, pad, or guard edges and surfaces that present a risk to employees. Above all, good housekeeping and organization should be maintained at all times.

When it comes to tools, employers and managers should also do their homework when it comes to providing hand tools to their employees. Workers should be provided with a variety of hand tools of which they can try out. After a trial period, employers can get feedback on which tools operate the best and those that were not as useful. Employers can then make informed choices on which tools will be most functional in the workplace.

It's also important for employers to consider what personal protective equipment (PPE) will be most suitable for workers. For instance, managers should provide employees with suitable sheaths or belts for those workers who need to move around carrying knives. Additional PPE for those working with knives include footwear, gloves, gauntlets, and aprons.

The third piece of the puzzle to a safe workplace is the employee. Worker behavior, training and understanding of hand tool safety is imperative to reducing incidences of injury. Firstly, it should be clear to workers which knives are the proper choice for cutting operations. Additionally, all employees should receive at least basic training on the correct way to use, carry, store, clean and maintain a safety knife. Knives should be kept sharp and regularly inspected for damage or wear. Above all, other implements should not be substituted for the use of a hand knife, and safety knives must be maintained in accordance with manufacturers' instructions.

Safety Knife Tips:
Select the right tool for job. For tools equipped with a guard, ensure it is in place and working correctly
Choose tools that fit the hand and body and are comfortable to use. Discard broken tools. Use tools correctly - push knife away from body. Keep hands and/or other body parts away from the point of operation. Use a tool box or tool belt to carry tools and keep sharp or pointed edges away from body
Avoid using excessive force or awkward postures when cutting with a knife.

When accidents do unfortunately occur, responding to the injury in a timely manner is, of course, mandatory. But first, employers need to take a little inventory to ensure their first aid services are adequate and that the proper training has been provided. First aid training courses should include instruction in general and workplace hazard-specific knowledge and skills. OSHA suggests that when setting up first aid services within a company, it's a good idea to appoint a person who will be responsible for choosing the types and amounts of first aid supplies, and for maintaining those supplies. The first aid contact should ensure that first aid supplies are adequate, reflect the kinds of injuries that occur, and are stored in an area where they are available for emergency access.

When it comes to first aid treatment for hand lacerations, the person treating the injured employee must first protect themselves against infection through contact with the injured employee's bodily fluids. Any equipment, clothing or surfaces contaminated with blood must be cleaned by a person trained in the proper cleaning and disposal methods per the company's bloodborne pathogen transmission prevention policy.

For treating minor cuts, the cut should be washed with mild soap and water. Direct pressure should be applied to stop any bleeding. Follow up with an antibacterial ointment to coat and protect the wound. Once the wound has stopped bleeding, cover it with a bandage that will not stick to the injury. Based on the severity of the wound, outside medical treatment may be required.

Employers concerned with providing their employees with the most effective cutting tools should seriously consider purchasing one of the many available styles of safety knives.
About the Author
Safecutters Inc., provides an online store of utility knife box cutters for opening shipping boxes and shipping packages, as well as safety knives to open moving boxes and packages. For more information about Klever Kutter and other Safecutters products contact us!
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