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Hand Safety and Injury Prevention

By Bethany Carpenter

The most common cause of hand injuries in the workplace today is human error. That’s right… not lack of personal protective hand coverage, not faulty machines, not environmental issues. Your own personal mistakes.

So what does that say about workers today?  That we’re incompetent?  No, even the most skilled and experienced workers are susceptible to hand-related work injuries.  Human error doesn’t mean we can’t handle the job, but it does mean we have a tendency to grow complacent and get distracted while working.  And complacency and distraction are dangerous habits that lead to numerous work-related injuries each year.

Take the following true story, for example.  Robert Whitfield, an Air Force weapons deployment support employee, was just about to leave work on lunch break when a coworker stopped him and asked if he would check a connection up in an aircraft bay.  Robert had just put his wedding ring on his left finger as he prepared to leave for lunch, but didn’t think to take it back off.  As he jumped down from the bay after checking the connection, Robert’s ring caught on an object, severely damaging the bone and tissue and resulting in its partial amputation.  Because of Robert’s accident, new policies and trainings were enacted within his workplace.  However, Robert’s life was drastically affected by complications brought on by his injury, which included a painful recovery period and financial issues that almost caused him to lose his home.  Now, 30 years later, Robert works as a Corporate Safety Specialist, sharing his story and teaching workers how to avoid injuries on the job.

Bob’s experience is not unusual.  In terms of hand and power tool safety, human error due to distraction and complacency is common and can take many forms, from forgetting to remove a piece of jewelry to accidentally getting too close to moving machinery.  One of the most common forms of human error is forgetting, or simply choosing not to, wear protective gloves at work.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that over 183,400 hand-related injuries occurred on the job in 2011. A whopping 70% of those victims were not wearing protective gloves.  The other 30% were wearing gloves, but the gloves were either ill-fitting or the wrong type for the job. Failing to use gloves, and ones that are job appropriate and the right size, is like asking for an accident to happen.

The most common types of hand injuries are bruises, pinches, lacerations, abrasions, strains, amputations, dislocations, Carpel Tunnel Syndrome, and Raynaud’s Disease.  The non-dominant hand is the most vulnerable to injury.


Pinch Points

Pinch points are places found between two objects, such as a machine with two continuously moving parts, where hands can get caught.

Rotating Parts

Many machines use rotating motions.  Machinery of this type include clutches, spindles and fans.  Hand injuries incurred from such machinery are often the result of loose-fitting gloves, which can accidentally feed into the machinery, taking a worker’s hand with it.


Any machine that is programmed to start on its own is especially dangerous.  Even if it’s not currently running, machinery can start up unexpectedly and easily catch hands if a worker is too close and not paying attention.

Hot and Cold Spots 

Hot areas in machinery, found in equipment like injection molders and welding instruments, can cause serious burns to the hands.  The same goes for hot flames on burners and cutting and brazing equipment.  Exposure to extremely cold temperatures and surfaces, such as transfer pipes in refrigeration systems, is equally dangerous and can also cause severe burns.


Jewelry and loose clothing or personal protective equipment can easily get caught in moving machinery and pull a finger or entire hand into the equipment.


We know the main causes of hand injuries, but what can do we do to prevent them?  There are several practices employers and employees can implement to reduce the risk of hand injury: engineering controls, administrative controls and personal protective equipment (PPE).

Engineering Controls

Engineering controls reduce hazards through the use of equipment that has built-in measures to protect the worker, and is always the preferred way to reduce workplace hazards.  Some common types of engineering controls include safety guards, electrical proximity limiting devices, emergency stop devices, and ergonomic tools.

Safety guards are built into machines or tools and protect hands from sharp objects, rotating parts and pinch points.  Electronic proximity limiting devices take the form of switches, sensors and electronic beams, and work by preventing a worker’s hands from getting too close to equipment.

Emergency stop devices allow workers to stop a machine by pushing a button, pulling a rope or flicking a switch to prevent injury.  In some cases blades will stop instantly upon first contact with soft tissue.

Ergonomic engineering controls are tools designed and built with the purpose of putting less strain on wrists, hands and fingers.

Administrative Controls

Administrative controls are procedures management puts in place, and are useful when engineering controls either cannot be implemented or cannot alone effectively reduce risk.  Safety training, lock and tag rules, warning signs, product substitution, and attention to ergonomic principles are all forms of administrative controls.

Personal Protective Equipment

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is worn to minimize hazards when engineering and administrative controls are not feasible or sufficient.  The PPE worn to protect hands are gloves.


Wearing the proper type of PPE, which in the case of your hands would be gloves, is vital when it comes to safety.  Protective gloves keep germs and hazardous chemicals off the skin, stop splinters and slivers, resist punctures and cuts from rough or sharp materials and objects, and protect against heat and cold.

It is crucial worker’s wearing gloves that fit correctly since loose-fitting gloves can get caught in machinery.  Before using, gloves should always be checked for damage and wear.  Workers should use the right type of glove for their job based on their employer’s hazard assessment.

Heat Resistant

Heat resistant gloves protect against burns and heat-related discomfort.

Metal Mesh, Kevlar, Tough Synthetic Yarn

Metal mesh, Kevlar and tough synthetic yarn gloves protect against cuts and punctures are often used by those who work with knives.


Thicker types of non-conductive gloves, often referred to as rubber gloves, are worn by electricians and engineers to protect against low-voltage electricity.  Thinner non-conductive gloves, often referred to as surgical gloves, protect the hands from blood-borne substances, as well as some chemicals and corrosives.

Neoprene, Nitrile, Latex, Vinyl

Neoprene, nitrile, latex, and vinyl gloves resist petroleum products and chemicals such as oils, acids, caustics, and solvents.


Leather gloves resist sparks, chips, rough objects, and heat.

Cotton Fabric

Cotton fabric gloves protect against dirt, slivers, chafing, and abrasion.


Waterproof gloves resist wet environments, and are often insulated with foam to protect against cold as well.

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