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Dean Clark

Hand cuts, scrapes and infections: Don’t ignore the work safety risks

Workers with good hand health are likely to produce better quality products with minimal lost time on the job.

Some injuries may be minor and require a bandage or anti-bacterial cream. Others may involve significant medical treatment, with lost time on the job amounting to days, months or even years.

The types of injuries or hazards workers usually incur fall into five main categories:

  • Mechanical
  • Temperature burns
  • Physiochemical
  • Musculoskeletal
  • Bacterial growth

MECHANICAL

Mechanical-related injuries are the most common hand injuries at work and include lacerations, abrasions and puncture, pinch or crush wounds.

Injury severity will vary depending on the work environment, the size of the product being produced and the task performed when the worker is injured.

Most of these injuries are preventable when workers wear proper hand protection and follow safe working protocols.

TEMPERATURE BURNS

This type of hand injury usually results from excessive heat or cold.

High-temperature burns, for example, may be linked to contact with heat-treated or welded materials, electric arc or even friction-related injuries.

Low-temperature burns generally result from contact with various refrigerants or exposure during extreme working conditions.

Temperature-related injuries are often preventable, requiring a safe working environment and protocol, and the proper use of safety gloves.

PHYSIOCHEMICAL

Physiochemical-related injuries typically result from severe or repeated chemical exposure or the use of safety gloves that do not allow the worker's skin to breathe or manage perspiration.

Chemical burns are very different from heat burns because they generally produce no heat, although the worker is likely to experience a burning sensation.

Chemical burn severity will depend on the concentration of the substance to which the worker is exposed and length of exposure. Chemicals that are absorbed by the skin can be extremely dangerous and even life-threatening.

Contact dermatitis is a physiochemical-related and debilitating hand injury that can result from excessive or repeated perspiration while a worker is wearing gloves.

Such injuries are often worse if accompanied by chemical or pathogen exposure. Skin may crack, bleed or become infected if hand hygiene practices are not followed and workers do not wear appropriate hand protections.

MUSCULOSKELETAL

Musculoskeletal injuries are often related to repetitive strain, excessive vibration and non-ergonomic workstations.

Using the proper hand protection — safety gloves that fit and feel like a second skin and allow maximum flexibility — can help reduce this type of injury.

The risk of musculoskeletal injuries increases when the wrong work safety glove is used for a task.

Safety gloves, for example, that do not offer sufficient grip in dry or wet applications are more likely to promote this type of injury.

BACTERIAL GROWTH

Bacteria are present on everyone's hands and skin. In simple terms, some are good and others are dangerous and can induce infection.

Frequent hand washing or a hand hygiene program can often prevent bacterial infection.

In addition, work safety gloves and hand gels are available that prevent bacterial growth.

These products should be selected based on the nature of the use, the type of "bugs" targeted and the kill effectiveness.

In the food processing industry, safety gloves are available that include yarns or coatings with antimicrobial properties. This hand protection is effective against a range of food-borne pathogens.