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Understanding the Causes of Occupational Hand Injuries
Workers’ hands are their most important tools in construction. By following the hierarchy of controls to eliminate hand-related hazards and substitute less hazardous processes, many hand injuries can be prevented. But steps must also be taken to train employees on the importance of hand protection and wearing work gloves.
“Wearing gloves is the last line of defense to keep workers’ hands out of harm’s way,” says LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni. “Gloves should always be worn when working with heavy objects, moving parts, tools with sharp edges, electricity and chemicals. It’s also important that the gloves provided are appropriate for the job, fit well and are in good condition. Failure to do so increases workers’ risk for serious injuries.”
The Cost of Hand Injuries
Injuries to the hands – including lacerations, amputations and chemical burns – are a top reason for emergency room visits, days away from work and costly workers’ compensation claims. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 70 percent of workers who suffer hand injuries were not wearing gloves. The remaining 30 percent had gloves on, but the gloves were inadequate (often because they didn't fit), were damaged or were the wrong type for the hazard they were supposed to be protecting against.
The consequences are costly for both workers and employers. Severed fingers and nerve damage can make it difficult or impossible for a person to work, engage in recreational activities like hunting, fishing or playing a sport or even get dressed or tie a shoe without assistance. The average hand injury claim now exceeds $6,000 and requires at least six days off from work. Treatment costs vary depending on the severity of the injury, but they are always steep. For example, stitches can run up to $2,000. A laceration can cost as much as $10,000. And a severed tendon can easily cost more than $70,000.
So Why Do Some Workers Take Off Their Gloves?
If you ask employees why they don’t have their gloves on, the answer you’re most likely to hear is that wearing them makes it difficult to work. Many workers say gloves can make it harder to get a good grip or that gloves make their hands sweaty and slippery. If the gloves are too big, a common problem (especially for women) is that they can easily get caught in machinery, leading to pinched fingers and amputations. Improving job performance is what motivates employees to take off their gloves, but doing so greatly increases their likelihood of suffering a serious injury.
Encouraging Employees to Always Wear Gloves
Listening to employee concerns can help employers provide workers with gloves they will be comfortable wearing. To get a better understanding of what employees like and don’t like, employers should always try on the work gloves they are thinking about purchasing. As with other types of personal protective equipment, it’s also a good idea to offer employees a range of sizes and brands, including some specifically designed for women, so that each person can select the pair that fits them best.
Employers can reduce the risk of a regular workday turning into a trip to the emergency room by ensuring employees have a clear understanding of the worksite policy on wearing gloves and giving workers input when gloves are purchased.
The LHSFNA has a number of materials that can help educate Laborers on hand safety and the importance of wearing work gloves. These include the Choosing Safe Hand Tools in Construction, Hand Safety and Skin Problems in Construction Health Alerts. Click on Publications to order these and other materials that can help keep Laborers healthy and safe.
[Janet Lubman Rathner]