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Every year, thousands of employees experience severe hand injuries while at work. Here's what you need to know to keep your employees safe and how MedExpress can help employers of all types keep their employees' hands hard at work.

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March 25, 2019

Our hands are one of our most valuable assets. From tying our shoes and driving, to handling heavy machinery and fragile electrical wires, we all know our hands are the go-to tool to use in tackling a million different tasks. And because they’re so important to almost everything we do, both on and off the clock, hand injuries can seriously affect all parts of a worker’s day-to-day life. Unfortunately, in 2017 more than 120,000 workers experienced this type of injury while on the job, accounting for almost eight percent of all nonfatal workplace injuries requiring days away from work that were reported to the Department of Labor that year.1

Bone fractures and breaks, tendon and muscle tears, and cuts and lacerations are some of the more common ways workers injure their hands on the job.1 While treating hand injuries can prove to be costly and often require many days out of work to recover, the good news is that many workplace hand injuries are easily preventable. With the right training, tools, resources, and education, employers and employees can help prevent hand injuries.

The Risk and Cost of Hand Injuries

Hand injuries don’t discriminate. They can happen to anyone, regardless of gender, age, or industry.

However, people working in industries like farming, construction, installation and maintenance, and transportation experience higher numbers of hand injuries than those who work in other industries. This is largely due to the frequent use of heavy machinery, repetitive tasks, and the physical nature of these fields. Machines like assembly equipment, hammers, saws, bulldozers, and other heavy equipment can put workers at increased risk of serious hand injuries.

worker cutting iron with a saw, which is a high risk hand injury task

And according to the data, ignoring anyone’s risk of experiencing a hand injury can prove costly. Sixteen percent of all workplace hand injuries involve employees who are 55 and older and often require longer periods of recovery, which means more days away from work following an injury. While the median number of work days missed overall for hand injuries is five, older workers who experience these injuries often need 12 to 14 days to recover.2

And hand injuries don’t just cost employers and employees missed days. It’s very easy for these injuries to quickly grow more and more expensive financially, depending on the type of injury. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average hand injury claim has cost more than $6,000 in recent years. Lost-time workers’ compensation claims for hand injuries have exceeded that, costing an average of $7,500.3

Most Common Hand Injuries

In 2017, the over 140,000 hand injuries sustained at work were categorized into more than a dozen different types by the BLS.1 Here are the most common:

Cuts, Lacerations, and Punctures

Forty-four percent of workplace hand injuries fall into this category, accounting for over 60,000 injuries in 2017 alone.1 These types of injuries can happen for a variety of reasons, from broken glass to machine mishaps, and can be the most intensive injuries to treat, often requiring stitches or more to begin the healing process.

One explanation for why lacerations are so common could be a simple lack of hand protection. To combat this, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) mandates that employers require workers to use appropriate protection when their hands are exposed to any dangers that could result in the following:

  • Skin absorption of harmful substances
  • Severe cuts or lacerations
  • Severe abrasions
  • Punctures
  • Chemical and/or thermal burns
  • Harmful temperature extremes

Following these guidelines can greatly increase hand safety at any workplace, reduce the number of days workers miss due to injury, and lessen the number of workers’ compensation claims. Considering that workers’ compensation costs for hand lacerations and punctures came to almost $31,000 per claim, workers and employers alike benefit from reduced instances of these injuries.4

Crushes

These injuries are just like they sound and usually involve parts of, or the entire, hand getting caught between heavy machinery and another hard surface. Crushes caused almost 27,000 hand injuries in 2017, making them the third most common cause of hand injuries.1

Crushes can permanently disfigure, scar, or damage the hands. This happens most often in cases where a crush prevents blood from reaching muscles in the hand.

Fractures, Sprains, and Tears

While cuts, lacerations, and punctures affect the outer parts of the hand, fractures, sprains, and tears have more to do with the hand’s inner workings: the bones and tendons. This class of injury accounted for 21 percent of all reported workplace hand injuries in 2017.1

Fractures are breaks in the bone, and can be caused by trips, falls, and crushes. They can require much longer recovery times than other injuries.

Avulsion fractures are also common with hand injuries. These types of fractures happen when a bone is moving one way and a tendon or ligament is moving or pulled in the other direction. A common avulsion injury happens when a worker’s wedding ring or other piece of jewelry gets caught on machinery. Many workplaces that use heavy machinery ask workers to remove any rings that they wear due to the risk for avulsion fractures and even detachments that can occur.

Soreness and Other Pain

Consistent soreness and pain in the hands is another widespread condition that accounted for almost 10,000 workers missing days in 2017.1 Though usually not as specific as other types of injuries, hand pain can take a toll on productivity and even be debilitating at times. Many of these injuries stem from repetitive tasks, such as typing or other frequent hand movements.1

Keeping Hands Safe

Employers can take some easy-to-incorporate measures to prevent hand injuries in the workplace. Consider the following:

1. Provide Personal Protective Equipment

Make sure your workers are well equipped with personal protective equipment (PPE), like gloves, that helps protect their hands from any injuries that may be sustained in their line of work. Overprotection is always better than under-protection, so err on the side of caution.

two mechanics working in auto service. One is holding a spanner, while the other is giving a thumbs up

When selecting the type of protective glove for employees, there are several important factors to consider that may vary based on industry. Not all gloves are the same, and not all gloves provide the same type of protection. It is important to research the type of hand protection to ensure that it complies with OSHA standards.

2. Educate and Set Expectations

Be sure to educate your workers about the tools and machinery that is used frequently at your worksite. Host training programs to help employees get to know equipment features, potential hazards, and appropriate safety measures.

You can also post a list of safety tips and workplace expectations in heavily trafficked areas – like locker and break rooms – that reminds employees to remove all rings, necklaces, earrings, and other jewelry before using hazardous machinery. Employees should always stay focused while handling heavy machinery and tools, with minimal distractions in areas where potentially dangerous equipment is being used.

3. Support Open Communications

Make sure your employees know that they can report any safety issues they identify in the field to their managers or supervisors. Employers should always be present and available for employees to report any safety issues or concerns immediately. When someone reports an issue, it is an opportunity to review what happened, what could have prevented the problem, and any other pertinent information with employees.

If your employees experience significant injuries, they should be considered medical emergencies and should be promptly evaluated in the nearest emergency department. Significant injuries can include (but are not limited to) severe crush injuries, finger avulsions, severe lacerations, extensive burns, or injection type injuries from high pressure paint or grease guns.

For less severe, non-emergent conditions, MedExpress offers a convenient and accessible option for your injured workers’ needs. More than half of the hand injuries we see as part of workers' compensation visits are due to open wounds, like lacerations. But our providers also commonly see dislocations and sprains, as well as superficial injuries of the hand and wrist, like bruises, abrasions, and blisters. As one of the nation's largest occupational medicine and workers' compensation providers, we’re here to evaluate and treat your workers at any of our 260 centers across the country.


References:

1 U.S. Department of Labor: Bureau of Labor Statistics. Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses. Last updated November 8, 2018. Accessed February 20, 2019.

2 U.S. Department of Labor: Bureau of Labor Statistics. Case and Demographic Characteristics for Work-related Injuries and Illnesses Involving Days Away from Work. Last updated November 8, 2018. Accessed March 3, 2019.

3 U.S. Department of Labor: Bureau of Labor Statistics. Workplace Injuries and Illnesses and Employer Costs for Workers’ Compensation. Last updated October 2016. Accessed March 3, 2019.

4 National Safety Council: Injury Facts. Workers’ Compensation Costs. Last updated 2018. Accessed March 3, 2019.

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