Wait A Minute! Hand Injuries Do Matter To OSHA – Part 1

Recently, there has been a shift among safety professionals away from OSHA compliance issues and toward creating effective safety management systems. Articles in safety journals and speaker presentations are focused on helping safety pros learn to align safety with the overall management system of an organization and methods for supporting a positive culture. This focus also includes methods for applying the principles of risk assessment, assessing the potential for severe injuries and fatalities, applying appropriate engineering and system controls, and on “debunking the Heinrich pyramid” with the perceived link between frequency and severity.

Two important and related elements in any safety management system are hazard identification and risk assessment. Hazards that carry a higher probability of occurrence and the potential for more severe outcomes are where we should be putting greater focus. However, to the untrained risk evaluator this view can create gaps in the safety system.

When looking for high risk exposures it is easy to overlook some of the more common injuries and mistakenly categorize them as minor in nature. For example, hand injuries (cuts, lacerations and burns) are often ignored because they are so common. However, under certain circumstances they can be severe and pose a serious business concern.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nearly 20% of workplace injuries involve cuts and lacerations to the hand and fingers. Hand injuries not only occur frequently, but can be severe and are second only to back strains and sprains in lost workdays.

Annually, hand injuries of all types send more than one million workers in the US to the emergency room, of which an estimated 110,000 of these result in recordable lost time. Though usually not fatal, the most severe finger and hand amputations or crushing injuries are extremely painful, debilitating and costly.  The BLS reports that over half of all fingertip amputations resulted in 18 or more days away from work.

In addition to the physical harm that hand injuries pose to workers, they also have financial implications. According to the BLS and the National Safety Council the average workers’ compensation claim for a hand injury now exceeds $6,000, and when lost time is involved the average exceeds $7,500.  On top of this for each amputation can be added the permanent partial disability rating and workers’ compensation settlement.  When you consider these statistics, mediacal and indemnity costs, and the pain and suffering involved, the overall drain on employee productivity is apparent.

OSHA Makes It Clear – Hand and Finger Injuries Are Important!

OSHA is still the 800 pound gorilla. Anything “OSHA” is always important news in the safety community, and the new recordkeeping provisions for reporting fatalities and injuries with hospitalization, amputations and loss of an eye are no exception. Effective January 1, 2015 a newly revised final rule, 29 CFR Part 1904 – Injury and Illness Recording and Reporting Requirements takes effect.

Of particular importance to note, fingertip amputations regardless of bone loss must be reported to OSHA within 24 hours of the incident.

From the Preamble to the Final Rule: “After careful consideration, OSHA finds that using the definition of amputation in the 2010 release (OIICS Version 2.0) of the BLS OIICS Manual will provide the greatest possible clarity and consistency… Thus, Section 1904.39(b)(11) of this final rule defines amputations as the traumatic loss of a limb or other external body part (see Section 1904.39(b)(11) of this final rule). According to this definition, an amputations include a part, such as a limb or appendage, that has been severed, cut off, amputated (either completely or partially); fingertip amputations with or without bone loss; medical amputations resulting from irreparable damage; and amputations of body parts that have since been reattached.

Three Kinds of Hand Injury Hazards*

The first step in understanding the potential risk of hand and finger injury is to understand the three kinds of hazards. Once these are understood and evaluated it is possible to apply a hierarchy of possible controls. We will discuss controls for each type of hazard in Part 2.

*From the CLMI training program “Preventing Hand Injuries”, © 2014 CLMI Safety Training

  1. Mechanical Hazards – these are situations where hands and fingers can get caught, pinched, crushed or severed in chains, rollers, gears, or other moving parts. Objects could fall on your hands. Or, your hands could get hurt while handling materials. Even hand tools can be a mechanical hazard if they are used incorrectly or are damaged.
  2. Contact Hazards – these hazards cause hands and fingers to get cut on sharp edges of tools, materials, packaging, containers or even debris from a manufacturing process. These hazards also include electrical current, chemicals, and extreme hot and cold temperatures.
  3. Personal Hazards – these hazards include wearing jewelry, loose clothing or using improper or defective personal protective equipment.

Understanding how these 3 kinds of hazards can increase the potential for injury is the important next step. In our next blog we will cover assessing the risk of each hazard and important hand injury prevention tips.   Please feel free to share this information.