Develop a habit of hand safety

February 1, 2008
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Machine guarding and safety gloves are common ways to approach hand safety hazards. One obstacle that facilities face is how to find ways to make employees understand what types of safety gloves are required when, and how to recognize at-risk hazards. Often, different gloves are required depending on the task being completed. And specific machine guarding requirements can be complicated, making them difficult for employees to remember. This uncertainty can de-motivate employees, leading to mistakes and preventable accidents.

When safety gloves are used routinely, it becomes second nature to use the right gloves for the task being completed. Once workers develop the habit of using safety gloves, it will almost feel strange not to wear them. The traditional approach of regulatory compliance is important but needs to be supplemented with other strategies to remind people consistently until safe behaviors become habit. Habits are formed by setting expectations and consequences for at-risk behaviors and repeating that expectation over and over again. To be successful over the long term, you must develop a habit of safe behaviors. To accomplish this goal, try supplementing your existing program to include approaches that build repetition to the expectation in a positive way.

Machine guarding supplement
Machine guarding is a common way to engineer out hazards to hands by developing a barrier, sensing device or the like, reducing exposure to the employee. Guards are often manipulated over time and may not protect employees as originally designed. One way to identify potential areas of concern is by using your employees to help solve the problem.

Machine guarding hazard awareness training can be technical and may not be understood the first time presented. To help employees remember the information, have them trace their hand onto cardboard and cut it out. They should then affix the cut-out to a stick and use it to see if OSHA machine guarding requirements are met or if they are able to reach any moving parts. All findings are documented on an action-items sheet. Each team then reports their findings to the group and turns the action items in for further review. Actions items generated are hung on a safety board until completed.

This method makes safety personal to each employee, empowering them to make change while building repetition each time the activity is completed. It is easy to understand and remember, and can be a lot of fun.

Glove program supplements
Safety gloves are a common safeguard from hand hazards. Understanding what gloves are required for what tasks can be confusing. Below are a few concepts to help clarify and build safe habits:

Glove availability
A glove-stocking program is a critical component that is easy to forget. Many organizations put a lot of time and energy into developing regulatory compliant hand safety programs while overlooking the daily stocking requirements. When employees try to find gloves that are required and not available, the perception becomes negative, and a disconnect develops between management expectations and employee perceptions.

Taking time during the planning phase to make sure you have a successful stocking program can help ensure success over the program’s duration.

Glove safety boards
Reducing the number of gloves required can help clarify expectations but may not be possible. Many times jobs are complex and require multiple tasks and several types of gloves. Employees must understand which gloves are required for what tasks. One way to help clarify this is by developing a glove board for each work area. Post each glove on the board and, under each glove, list the inspection procedure, limitation of use and tasks for which it should be used. Once completed, the board can be used to review glove requirements at team meetings or as a reference tool for employees.

In addition, you can distribute gloves next to the boards so employees have an immediate reference and repetition tool. Soon the constant reminders of what is required will form a glove safety habit.

Hand safety bingo
Hand safety bingo is an easy and fun way to help remind employees what gloves are required when. Simply take each glove and ask the following questions one at a time:
  • What are the inspection procedures?
  • What are the limitations of use?
  • What tasks can the glove be used for?
As a question is asked, employees have the opportunity to yell “bingo” and answer the question. Correct responses win a small prize such as a candy bar. Repeat hand safety bingo several times. The reminders are fun, easy and help build safe habits when repeated over time.

Hand safety alerts
You can develop safety alerts for each incident, near miss and reported hazard, outlining what happened and what will be done to fix the problem. Include pictures so you “show” as well as “tell.” Review each safety alert, taking a few minutes to determine if a similar hazard exists in the area. As an example, if the issue was a missing guard, you could review the safety alert with employees and search the entire facility as a team to make sure all guards are in place. This approach reminds employees of hand hazards based on real-world examples and personalizes the expectation.

Compliance counts
None of the supplemental approaches presented in this article are meant to replace regulatory compliance obligations. However, supplemental concepts in addition to regulatory compliance requirements can build lasting change. By communicating hand safety expectations through positive repetition, safe habits develop into reduced hand injuries. You should further develop these concepts for your organization, making sure all safety precautions are taken before activities are completed.

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