Preventing hand injuries

July 1, 2003
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Are you experiencing trouble in getting workers involved in your efforts to reduce hand injuries? Does it seem like mission impossible?

Research and real-world experience shows it can be done. There are great ways to get your people involved in the reduction of hand injuries.

Let's start with the work of Kurt Lewin to help us better understand the dynamics of employee involvement. Lewin, a well-known psychologist, studied different types of interpersonal conflict in the 1940s and 1950s. He observed that some individuals, like teachers, influenced their students in one way, but that these same students were being pushed in the opposite direction by the peer pressure of their classmates.

Lewin later extended his reasoning to group dynamics. He discovered that in these types of "push-pull" situations, where an authority (such as a safety manager) is trying to influence someone against the will of their own group, it was better to present the various challenges to the group as a whole. This proved more effective than trying to affect change through individuals alone.

Later research by others led to these findings:

1) When management simply told workers what changes should be made without first involving them, workers tended to adhere to the standards of the group, resisting management's decisions. This generally led to a more volatile work arrangement and created a frustrated workforce.

2) When mutual participation with management led to "group decision-making," workers seemed to accept change more readily - it became a part of their decision-making efforts. From this standpoint, management was not viewed as a dictator, and marked improvements in production were realized.

Applying the research

Now let's apply these lessons to reducing hand injuries in the workplace. Here are four specific team-based steps you can take:

1) Make sure that your team of employees has the opportunity to contribute to any engineering improvements or administrative efforts to reduce hand injuries. Valuable input from your workforce can help shed light on these solutions.

Employees can also contribute in positive ways to hand protection compliance efforts. Remember to use the PPE standard for direction (OSHA 29 CFR 1910.138). Your employees can help identify pinch points, lacerations, vibration, chemical exposures, ergonomics, or electrical hazards. This hazard assessment and formal sign-off must become some part of your overall strategy.

One helpful hand protection training topic for employees can be the voluntary standard ANSI / ISEA 105 - 2000. It helps to clarify and classify hand protection options relating to various exposures and can support your OSHA compliance efforts.

2) If you need to select and use various forms of hand protection that may be new or varied from the past - get your team involved! You want gloves that feel comfortable to workers to ensure ongoing use.

3) Get your workforce involved in training others in the use of hand protection. It's important to see peers model the correct use of all PPE. Often it's more acceptable to see and hear safety encouragement from those who work with you. 4) Reinforce the selection and use of hand protection through peer-to-peer coaching as well as from formal authorities. You can't let up. Constant reminders are necessary to continually drive down hand-related injuries.

Benefits of participation

Remember these benefits of employee involvement:

  • Group decision-making tends to increase the quality of hand protection hazard assessments, OSHA compliance, and glove selection. You can extend this teamwork to other areas of your safety program, such as hearing or respiratory protection.

  • Tackling an issue such as hand protection, so common in so many workplaces, can build a sense of community among your employees that can have benefits beyond safety. People begin communicating and reminding each other of the need for hand protection awareness on a daily basis. Relationships are forged over safety that can improve productivity and quality.

  • Team-oriented work helps to build trust. Members begin to understand that the inter-related work of others helps them to reach individual and collective goals - in this case, to reduce hand injuries.

    The work of Kurt Lewin is great stuff and fun to read about, and it provides insight for an area that can be a major challenge in many industries - hand injuries. Just try some of what's been served up - you'll find it a hands-down winner!

    SIDEBAR: Common and serious injuries

    Of the 3.6 million work-related injuries treated in emergency rooms in the U.S. in 1998, hands and fingers were the most commonly treated body part, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 250,000 people suffer serious hand injuries each year.

    Our hands are one of the most anatomically intricate and complex parts of the body, according to University of Arizona Health Sciences Center. When injured, care must be given to all the different types of tissues that make the hand function. Hands require sensation and movement, such as joint motion, tendon gliding, and muscle contraction. Impaired function of the hand can result from injuries of the skin, nerves, bones, joints, muscles, tendons and blood vessels of the entire upper extremity.

    Remember, injuries to the hand can be life changing.

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