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Published: October, 2014; Vol 11, Num 5

 

Protect Your Hands On and Off the Job

LIUNA General
President
Terry O'Sullivan

“When it comes to working as a Laborer, your hands are your livelihood,” says LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan. “Nearly every task construction laborers perform requires using your hands, so protecting them both on and off the job will go a long way toward extending your career.”

Protecting Your Hands On the Job

The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that hand injuries are the second most common injury in construction (only back injuries are more frequent). Laborers face many different kinds of hand hazards, but some of the most common include:

  • Pinch or crush points between moving objects and/or stationary objects
  • Hot surfaces on machinery
  • Rotating devices, such as drill bits and circular saw blades
  • Chemicals, such as solvents and acids
  • Jewelry and long sleeves that can easily get caught in moving parts of machinery
  • Machinery not properly locked-out, which can unexpectedly start up

One of the easiest ways to protect your hands against scrapes, cuts, amputations, chemical exposures and other hazards is to wear gloves. CPWR – the Center for Construction Research and Training – developed choosehandsafety.org to help workers and employers select the appropriate gloves for a given task. Choosing the right glove involves assessing the potential exposures involved in the tasks being performed, including consulting the safety data sheets for any chemicals being used.

Many chemicals can be absorbed through the skin, while others can cause rashes such as contact dermatitis, an inflammation of the skin accompanied by redness, swelling, itching and blisters. Some people also develop skin allergies to chemical exposures like cement. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that more than half of lost work days due to occupational illness are caused by skin disorders.

Choosing the right hand tool is also a key part of protecting your hands. Tools with handles that fit your hand reduce fatigue, increase productivity and reduce the risk for hand and wrist problems. Having to grip a tool too tightly or bend your wrist awkwardly to use a tool can lead to repetitive strain injuries and reduce your grip strength. Just because a tool is labeled as “ergonomic” doesn’t mean it’s a better choice – the right tool is one that can be used comfortably all day.

Practicing Hand Safety Off the Job

Just because you’re off the clock doesn’t mean your hands are no longer at risk. Plenty of common activities present additional risks to the hands, including yard work, working on a car or power tool use. Beneath the skin, your hands are an intricate architecture of tendons, joints, ligaments, nerves and bones. Practicing the same hand safety habits you follow on the job will help keep your hands safe at home. That means watching out for pinch points, sharp or rotating objects and abrasive chemicals such as solvents.

Because Laborers work with their hands for much of the day, they are at increased risk for a number of repetitive stress injuries. Consult your health care provider if you think you may be experiencing any of the following conditions:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome – caused by a pinched nerve in the wrist, it leads to tingling or numbness in the fingers and sharp, shooting pains in the wrist.
  • Osteoarthritis – also known as wear-and-tear arthritis, it occurs when cartilage between bones wears down over time. Symptoms include pain, tenderness, stiffness or a grating sensation when moving the affected joint.
  • Tendonitis – caused by inflammation of the tendons, symptoms of tendonitis include tenderness, pain and swelling.

Good hand care also means taking steps to prevent problems before they start. Follow these tips to keep your hands in the best shape possible:

  • Use moisturizer or hand lotion to prevent your skin from becoming dry or cracked
  • Clean under your nails to remove bacteria
  • Don’t pull or tear at hangnails – trim them with fingernail clippers
  • Don’t forget to include your hands when applying sunscreen
  • Don’t ignore inflammation – it could be an early sign of infection

“Protecting your hands at home not only ensures you can continue your career as a Laborer, but ensures you can continue living the life you want to lead outside of work,” says O’Sullivan.

Resources

The LHSFNA provides additional information on hand safety through a number of publications in our Publications Catalogue, including the Hand Injuries and Choosing Safe Hand Tools in Construction Health Alerts, It’s Your Body pamphlet and the Laborers’ Guide to Preventing Strains and Sprains in Construction pamphlet.

[Nick Fox]