Our hands do amazing things for us, from eating, to driving, to jotting down notes. Jobs that involve working with your hands put you at risk for injuries that could jeopardize all that.
In fact, hand injuries are some of the most common work-related injuries in the United States and elsewhere. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics says that cuts and lacerations to the hand and fingers account for almost 20% of all workplace injuries, and are second only to back sprains and strains in lost workdays. In some industries, reported incidents account for nearly 40% of all workplace injuries.
Keep reading to learn about 7 well-known jobs that can be dangerous for your hands and how you can prevent hand injuries in the workplace.
Types of Hand Injury Hazards
Every job that involves working with your hands poses its own unique set of risks, but in general, these are the 3 most common types of hand injury hazards that workers face on the job, according to CLMI Safety Training:
- Mechanical: hand tools, falling objects, machinery, and moving parts like chains, rollers, and gears
- Contact: sharp edges, debris, electrical currents, chemicals, and extreme temperatures
- Personal: wearing improper clothing or failing to wear the right protective equipment
If you’re thinking about what type of hand protection you need for your job, consider each of those categories and think about what hazards you deal with regularly (and also not so regularly). In some cases, certain times of year require a different pair of gloves. For example, anyone working outside in winter needs specialized gloves for cold weather.
Now let’s break down the risks for specific jobs. We’ll look at the most common types of hand injuries for each, how they frequently occur, and (most importantly) how to prevent them.
1. Oil & Gas
According to hand injury statistics from EHS Today, 50% of incidents in the oil and gas industry are hand and finger injuries, and at some facilities, the number is actually closer to 80%. In the oil and gas industry, the most common types of injuries for hands include:
- Impact and crushing injuries from heavy pipes, equipment, or other objects
- Cuts and lacerations, which can be especially dangerous, and costly to treat
- Chemical exposure
- Repetitive use injuries like carpal tunnel
New technology and tools now allow more and more work to be performed remotely, but proper risk assessment and training is still a crucial element of preventing hand injuries in the workplace. And proper hand protection is absolutely essential.
People in the oil and gas industry need gloves that protect against all the hazards they face at work without hindering performance. Gloves also need to be comfortable, otherwise, people are less likely to wear them all day. A good pair of gloves for the oil and gas industry will include features like impact protection, cut resistance, waterproof materials, grip control, flame resistance, high dexterity, and high visibility.
2. Operating Heavy Machinery
Pretty much any job that involves using heavy machinery puts you at risk for injuries to your hands. It could be demolition work, or operating a jackhammer or other large pieces of equipment.
Using power tools or heavy machinery puts stress on your hands, forearms, and wrists over time. Tools and machinery that involve repeated impact or vibration cause hand fatigue. Hand fatigue reduces grip control and can lead to dangerous, costly mistakes.
Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI) also make up about 30 percent of all workplace injuries that result in lost workdays and about a third of the money doled out in workers compensation claims according to Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA), which accounts for roughly $20 billion a year in workers comp. Operating heavy equipment opens the door to RSI as well as other chronic injuries.
Chronic injuries, like carpal tunnel and hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS), are common in these industries. HAVS, can result from prolonged use of vibrating tools, so it’s important for people to be on the lookout for early signs of discomfort that could signal the approach of a long-term injury. Operating vibrating equipment on a long-term basis virtually guarantees the onset of HAVS according to a study by the University of Southampton.
It’s important to take the proper hand precautions when operating vibrating equipment to prevent the development of HAVS. HAVS affects the central nervous system, and progresses from numbness and tingling to loss of grip strength and range of motion. Like a bad recurring football injury, HAVS is chronic, and often takes people off the job for longer than fractures or lacerations.
Luckily, the right gloves can help prevent these injuries from ever occurring in the first place. Anti-vibration gloves are essential for heavy machinery operators or those working with vibrating tools. Look for gloves with vibration dampening materials such as Hexagonal Memory Gel® to effectively disperse vibration from tools, and pre-curved finger seams to prevent hand fatigue, add comfort, and improve grip when grasping tools.
Cuts, lacerations, burns, and bruises are some of the most common hand injuries for mechanics. Many mechanics routinely:
- Lift heavy parts and maneuver them into place
- Work in tight spaces
- Work near rotating parts
- Work with sheet metal
- Operate equipment like vehicle lifts, hoists, and jacks
- Use tools like lathes, winches, and welding torches
- Perform tiring, repetitive manual tasks
- Risk fire exposure from fuel, as well as exposure to chemicals
When it comes to hand protection, mechanic gloves must have dexterity, cut-and-puncture resistance, and impact protection above all else. Impact protection will help protect the back of the hands from falling objects, caught between, and accidental strikes, while cut protection and dexterity will make sure your hands stay safe and allow for easy movement.
Additionally, mechanics routinely work with vibrating tools such as pneumatic torque wrenches, grinders, socket wrenches and other hand tools requiring repetitive motions. Much like those working using heavy machinery, mechanics are susceptible to HAVS and carpal tunnel and need anti-vibration gloves when using these tools.
The most obvious hand injury risk is the risk of electric shock and electrical burns, but because many electricians work in such a wide variety of environments, they’re exposed to several less-obvious hazards too. These are a few activities that can cause hand injuries:
- Working in awkward positions in confined spaces
- Working with power tools and hand tools
- Exhaustion from working long days
- Many others, depending on the type of electrical work
For many electricians, each job begins in a new, unfamiliar environment, so a good safety precaution is to examine the work area to identify potential hazards before getting started. When it comes to gloves for electricians, sacrificing dexterity is not an option. A lightweight, breathable glove made with leather is a great choice.
For higher voltages, insulating natural rubber gloves with a leather protector will do the job of protecting workers from electric shocks and should meet OSHA’s standard for electrical protective equipment. An electrician we contacted said depending on the job he’s doing, he uses a varied number of gloves from lightweight to very heavy including rubber gloves that are 2,000 amp as well as 48,000 amp rated, along with leather gloves inside of them for adequate protection. Additionally, his “hot work tools and insulating mats” are all rated for a minimum of 1,000 volts.
The best electrical gloves are those that are well insulated to meet the requirements of the job at hand. Choosing the right gloves will depend on the type of electrical work (residential, commercial, high-wire, etc.) and the level of voltage you’re working with.
One of the most common injuries for welders is burns — specifically, burns from heat, sparks, fire, and also from the intense ultraviolet and infrared radiation that a welding arc produces.
Depending on where they work, many welders are also at risk for cuts, crushed fingers, electrical injuries, and chemical exposure. Chronic injuries from repetitive motions such as carpal tunnel and HAVS are common as well. The CDC has identified welding as a job at high risk for carpal tunnel syndrome.
Welders need good personal protective equipment for their entire bodies, including proper clothing, eye protection, and gloves.
The first feature to look for in welding gloves is heat protection, but it’s also important to choose gloves with materials that protect against cuts, punctures, and impacts. Vibration-dampening palms can help prevent hand fatigue and chronic injuries. Of course, welders also need to be able to wield their tools with precision, so high-dexterity leather is a must.
It’s no secret that logging can be dangerous work. Actually, it’s the most dangerous job in the US by many measures. Loggers regularly deal with heavy machinery, tools, and falling trees, so it’s crucial to look for gloves with features like:
- Cut resistance (to prevent cuts and lacerations from tools like chainsaws)
- Vibration resistance to prevent hand fatigue and long-term injuries
- Impact protection to protect hands from being crushed, hit, or pinched by heavy objects or rolling logs
People in the logging industry often spend the majority of their time outside, sometimes in less-than-ideal weather. Cold temperatures increase the risk of injury because the cold weakens workers’ hands. Additionally, the cold temperatures will make workers less likely to notice when hands are becoming fatigued. Anyone doing logging work in cold temperatures needs a high-quality heavy-duty winter work glove that’s specifically designed to withstand extreme cold while providing needed impact protection, cut resistance, and dexterity.
7. Fire & Rescue
Fire and Rescue workers put their hands on the line to help others, which unfortunately means working in dangerous situations much of the time. There’s a reason why proper training and safety procedures are so heavily emphasized in this industry.
According to the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA’s) 2016 report, 20% of firefighter injuries are to the upper extremities, with the majority of those injuries being to hands and fingers.
Structural firefighter’s gloves are highly specialized and must comply with NFPA standards and verification by Underwriters Laboratories. Firefighters and other professionals need hand protection that:
- Is crafted with heat- and fire-resistant materials
- Provides impact protection
- Protects from prolonged exposure to water and wet conditions
- Stops sharp metal, glass, and other objects from cutting and puncturing the skin
- Protects hands from fire-hose rope abrasion
- Offers dexterity so hands can move freely and ably
- Are comfortable enough to wear for long periods
Search & Rescue (SAR) workers also need specialized gloves to be able to extract injured crash victims from vehicles and other tight spaces safely. Features like cut and puncture resistance are essential for first responders to be able to handle broken glass and twisted metal, while bloodborne pathogen resistance is also important for the SAR workers’ safety.
High-visibility colors are also a plus as they can help during poor weather conditions and at night. Additionally, a glove with an antimicrobial barrier lining will help to prevent liquid from entering, while still allowing for breathability and comfort during long search operations in tough conditions.
You only get two hands, and they’re worth protecting.
Hand injuries aren’t just common; they can also be extremely painful. Believe it or not, our hands and fingers have more nerve endings per square centimeter than any other part of our bodies.
As you can imagine, hand injuries can also be debilitating. Anyone who has suffered an acute hand injury will tell you that recovery is not fun. It can force you to take time away from work and make it impossible to perform many of the simple daily activities that most of us take for granted, like typing out a short message on a smartphone or tying a shoelace. Treatment can be uncomfortable and costly as well. Plus, no one wants to deal with the potentially life-altering aftermath of a chronic hand injury, which can include having to change careers.
Although these consequences can be devastating, the good news is that hand injuries are some of the easiest injuries to prevent simply by wearing the right protective equipment.
How can we help?
At Cestus Armored Gloves, we specialize in professional-grade hand protection for oil and gas, heavy construction, mining, welding, fire and rescue, skilled trades, and general use around the home. Have a look at our product offerings. If you’re looking for advice on how to choose the right gloves for your job, contact us. We’re here to answer all your questions and help you find what you need.