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EH&S Insight:
Getting a Handle on Hand Safety

This article first appeared in our digital magazine Safer Every Day and was written by EHS expert Nicole Sheets, CIH, CSP.

When you jumped online to read this article, chances are you didn't have to stop and think about how you were going to navigate your keyboard. What about when you buttoned your shirt, ate your breakfast or picked up your car keys this morning? Probably not. A hand injury can make the multitude of tasks that we take for granted a serious, if not impossible, challenge. Maybe for the short term, or perhaps, permanently. 

Hand Injuries

Hand injuries are painful and come with high costs, both personally and financially. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports, "The average hand injury claim has now exceeded $6,000, with each lost-time workers' compensation claim reaching nearly $7,500."

According to the Safety and Health Council of North Carolina, the five most common hand injuries in the workplace include lacerations (63%), crushes (13%), avulsions or detachments (8%), punctures (6%) and fractures (5%). In the manufacturing environment, hand injuries generally result from physical or chemical hazards and result in burns, bruises, abrasions, cuts, punctures, fractures, amputations and chemical exposures to the hand.  (  

Hand injuries are painful and come with high costs, both personally and financially. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports, “The average hand injury claim has now exceeded $6,000, with each lost-time workers' compensation claim reaching nearly $7,500." According to the National Safety Council, stitches can cost up to $2,000, lacerations can cost up to $10,000 and repairing a severed tendon can exceed $70,000.

The indirect cost to businesses can add up to 4.5 times the direct costs, and can include training replacement workers, increased insurance rates, lost productivity, paying overtime, administrative costs of accident investigations, legal fees and OSHA citations.

OSHA's "Safety Pays Program" presents cost estimates (and even provides a cost calculator) for many of the indirect costs that employers often overlook when determining an injury's effect on the bottom line. Based on workers' compensation insurance data, the following relationships between direct and indirect costs were found.

Direct Cost of Injuries

Indirect Cost Ratio

$0 - $2,999


$3,000 - $4,999


$5,000 - $9,999


$10,000 or more



While hand injuries are common and costly, they are also PREVENTABLE. By developing a proper workplace hand-safety program you can ensure the safety of your employees and prevent these life-altering injuries.

Keys to Preventing Hand Injuries

Most hand injuries can be prevented by wearing proper gloves and using safe, well thought out work practices.
The keys to a successful hand injury prevention program are:

  • Evaluating injury trends
  • Performing a facility Hazard Assessment
  • Determining proper PPE
  • Training employees on hazards, proper glove use, and safe work practices
  • Building awareness and monitoring success of the program

Analyze Hand Injury Trends

The first step is to review your company's accident and injury records to detect trends and patterns. Questions to ask include:

  • What types of injuries happen most frequently (e.g. cuts from box cutters)?
  • What areas of the facility do injuries occur most (e.g. Shipping)?

If there is a trend, it is likely that something needs to change—the question is, what?

  • Are the injuries related to improper tool or equipment handling, lack of proper glove use, or chemical exposures?
  • Have employees been trained on the hazards of the tasks and how to avoid such accidents from happening?

Conducting this analysis enables you to gain a fuller understanding of the types and causes of hand injuries in your workplace, and what needs to change to prevent them from occurring again. Prioritize efforts on the higher frequency and more serious hand injuries, ultimately addressing all types of injuries with the same goal in mind, regardless of severity or frequency.


Some of the data to review includes:

  • First Aid Records
  • Accident Reports
  • Near Miss Reports
  • OSHA 300 Log

Perform a Hazard Assessment

The second step you should take is to perform a hazard assessment based on the results of the analysis. An EHS professional should conduct an assessment of your facility to identify the potential hazards and sources of hand injuries.

Some of the hand hazards that could exist include:

  • Chemical exposure
  • Heat/Cold
  • Handling sharp edged materials
  • Using knives or box cutters
  • Working with equipment with pinch, crush or cut hazards
  • Amputation
  • Electrical burns

Determine Proper PPE and Safe Work Practices

Once the hazard assessment is complete the EHS professional should provide suggestions on the proper PPE that should be used for the task at hand. This includes matching the proper glove to the hazards that are present in specific job functions within your company. Additionally, other protective measures such as machine guarding and safe work practices should be put in place.

Some safe work practices include:

  • Use proper tools to perform tasks instead of hands, where possible
  • Inspect tools and repair or replace as needed
  • Evaluate how chemicals are handled, transferred, and applied, seeking ways to reduce the risk of splashes and spills
  • Use the smallest quantity of chemical needed to get the job done
  • Substitute safer products for more hazardous ones
  • Opt for ergonomic tools and tools specifically designed for the task to be performed
  • Don't wear rings or bracelets, as they may get caught on equipment and can cause serious injuries, such as avulsions

Implement a Training Program

The next step is to perform the proper training. An EHS professional should educate employees and make sure they understand the hazards their jobs present and how to protect themselves from those hazards. It is important to provide this training and outline the guidelines and rules that employees should follow to protect themselves.  

Training should address though not necessarily be limited to:

  • Types of hand hazards in the workplace
  • Types of injuries that can result
  • Safe work practices to minimize exposure to hazards
  • Proper types of gloves (when gloves are appropriate)
  • Proper fit of gloves

Communicate and Monitor the Program

The next step is to effectively communicate and build awareness around your new program. Some ways to build awareness include verbal reminders and written communication such as posters, fliers and banners. These should be posted where employees can see them and serve as a reminder of your commitment to safety. As awareness builds, be sure to continue to monitor the effectiveness of your program and use audits and checklists to keep track of progress.

Reviewing injury trends, performing a hazard assessment, determining proper PPE and safe work practices along with training and effective communication are all key components of a hand safety program. Take these steps today to help protect your employees from preventable hand injuries. Your employees and your business will benefit.

Have a Safe Day!