handshakeImagine life without the use of your hands.

Suddenly, basic tasks in the workplace and at home – from operating a torque drill to turning the ignition key in your vehicle – become major obstacles. Clearly, our hands are vital tools for performing a myriad of essential life and work functions, not to mention the fact that they are one of our primary points of contact with the world around us.

Yet the data suggests that too far many people are putting their hands at risk – and paying a steep price.

Injuries to the hand, wrist and fingers accounted for 10.3 percent of all U.S. emergency-room visits in 2009, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In numbers, that’s 4.7 million injuries.

In the workplace, only the back contributes to more days-away-from-work injuries than the hands. According to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employers reported 140,460 hand injuries that led to lost workdays in 2011, at an incidence rate of 13.9.

Most expensive injury

The median number of lost workdays resulting from hand injuries: five.

Studies in various countries and industries point to the potent economic impact of hand injuries. A study published in the May 2012 Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery concluded that hand and wrist injuries in the Netherlands are more expensive than any other injury type, costing about $740 million (U.S.) annually.

The biggest reason for the high price tag, according to the researchers, is lost productivity – not direct health care costs.

“Hand and wrist injuries should be a priority area for research in trauma care, and further research could help to reduce the cost of these injuries, both to the health care system and to society,” the researchers concluded.

Injury costs v. PPE costs

In the United States, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and several trade associations showed that the annual cost of hand injuries in the road-construction sector was $48 million more than the cost of equipping all 574,000 workers in the industry with protective gloves.

A survey concluded that wearing gloves reduced the risk of hand injuries by 60 percent. Other studies have made similar findings, with some suggesting that the risk reduction is much higher than 60 percent.

OSHA 1910.138(a) requires employers to provide “appropriate hand protection when employees’ hands are exposed to hazards” such as severe cuts, abrasions, burns and harmful temperature extremes. But the agency also notes that PPE is just one element of a hand-protection program.

“PPE devices alone should not be relied on to provide protection against hazards, but should be used in conjunction with guards, engineering controls and sound manufacturing practices,” the agency explains in an appendix to its hand-protection regulation.

Still, the bottom line remains the same: With the appropriate mix of hand protection and safety measures, hand injuries are largely preventable.

SOURCE: Zero Excuses Campaign for Hand Safety