Your hands and wrists are a complex system of bones, muscles and tendons, ligaments, blood vessels and nerves protected by layers of skin. A total of 27 hand and wrist bones are connected to the muscles by tendons. Ligaments join bones together and hold the joints in place. Blood vessels supply nourishment to all these parts. Nerves convey sensations and help to control hand and finger movements.

The skin provides a barrier against chemicals, heat and cold. Skin on the back of the hand is thin and elastic and, on the palm, it is thick to provide traction, cushioning and insulation.

Hands are vulnerable. Even a small cut makes it difficult and painful to work – and there can be much more serious injuries.

Injuries can be immediate or may happen over time. In the workplace, your hands are subjected to many hazards.

Mechanical hazards

There are numerous mechanical hazards from tools, equipment, machines, structures and vehicles:

  • chains, gears, rollers, wheels and transmission belts;
  • spiked or jagged tools;
  • edges that catch and tear;
  • cutting, chopping and grinding mechanisms;
  • cutting tools such as knives and presses;
  • falling objects, etc.

Prevention tips

  • Work at your own pace. The frequency of hand injuries is proportional to how quickly you work.
  • Stay alert. Always watch what your hands are doing.
  • Use a push stick to feed a circular saw or other power tools such as jointers and shapers.
  • Know how to handle the tools and equipment you work with. Don't take shortcuts.
  • Wrenches should properly fit nuts and bolts.
  • Use long magnetic poles for retrieving items from places where it is dangerous for hands to go.
  • Presses and other machines should be designed to keep hands away from the work area.
  • Control panels should be designed, installed and guarded to reduce the risk of accidents as much as possible.
  • Use different colors, shapes or sizes to distinguish safety shut-off controls from all other controls.
  • Never start repair work on power tools or machinery without first checking that the power is shut off and the machine is locked out.
  • If you are taking any drugs or medication, consult your doctor. Some drugs and medication impair your faculties, prevent you from thinking clearly and slow your reflexes.

It’s dangerous to wear rings at work. Even a ring that fits your finger perfectly poses a hazard. If the ring is forced off or breaks, it may pull the flesh from the finger or amputate it.

Heat and cold

Burns to the hands can be caused by exhaust pipes, sparks, steam, hot pipes, hot liquids, welding and molten metals. Even extreme cold can cause burns.

Prevention tips

  • Use gloves appropriate for the job and temperature.
  • Insulate tool handles.
  • Let hot surfaces cool before working on them.
  • Before hands become too cold, take time to warm them up.

Chemical hazards

Chemical substances may irritate the skin, causing redness, itching, eczema, inflammation, dryness and serious burns. Some chemical products are doubly dangerous: in addition to being irritants, they are toxic when absorbed by the body through the skin. Degreasers, metals, plant and animal oils, dyes, inks, cleaning solutions and many other chemical products can damage the skin and subcutaneous tissues of your hands.

Prevention tips

  • Keep containers correctly labelled and be sure to always read, understand and follow the manufacturer's directions.
  • Protect your skin by wearing proper gloves for the substances being handled.
  • Report any problem with a substance or protective clothing.
  • Wash your skin well with soap and warm water or use special cleansers, especially after direct contact with a chemical substance and before smoking or eating.
  • Don't wipe your hands with chemically contaminated rags.
  • Use barrier creams when there is no other way to protect your hands. Since it is important to use the right cream, you should see a specialist. The wrong cream may encourage absorption of certain substances rather than protect you. Barrier creams must be reapplied after you wash your hands.

Risk of infection

Hands exposed to materials contaminated by microbes can become infected. For example, tetanus and hepatitis C are infections that can be transmitted through hand wounds. Check the date of your last tetanus immunization. Hepatitis C immunization is important for health care workers and laboratory workers.

Prevention tips

  • Always wash your hands thoroughly.
  • Wear proper gloves to protect your hands.
  • Use safe handling techniques.
  • Always obtain first aid for every injury, no matter how minor.

Advice for protecting your hands

  • Your hands must be protected against the hazards of the particular job.
  • Gloves should not be worn around machines with moving parts that could catch them and pull the hands into danger areas, for example, machines with pulleys or power-driven machines with rotating shafts.
  • Protective sleeves should be long enough to leave no gap between the gloves and the sleeves.
  • Do not wear gloves with metal parts when working near electrical equipment.

Some situations call for protection other than gloves. Find out if you would be better protected with barrier creams, finger guards or cots, hand protectors or leather products, arm protectors, sleeves or wristlets.