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Hand-Delivering Your Hand-Safety Message

By TJ Scimone

I imagine you’ve given your fair share of workplace hand-safety talks throughout your career, whether informal talks or as part of your official workplace safety and health program, presented in a formal safety meeting.
Have you ever watched your audience to see how—or even if—they’re actually receiving the information you’re sharing? Do you sometimes feel that the hand-safety information you provide goes right in one ear and out the other? Do your hand-safety statistics prove this, with accidents, injuries, and close call/near miss incidents peppering safety reports, despite your best efforts?
The Hair-Raising Costs of Hand Injuries
Some upsetting statistics about hand injuries: According to a 2015 survey conducted by the American Society of Safety Professionals, 40% of hand injuries in the workplace are punctures or lacerations. In a Department of Labor study, 23% of all injuries reported were finger and hand injuries.
The cost of a single finger or hand injury ranges from $540 to $26,000 per patient, according to a National Safety Council study, causing workers to lose an average of six work days per incident. Over one million workers visit the emergency room with hand injuries every year. Here’s the most startling statistic of all: according to OSHA, nearly 71% of workplace hand injuries are entirely preventable with hand-safety program compliance (such as using safer utility knives), undivided attention when performing dangerous tasks, and proper cut-resistant gloves.

It’s Not Your Message, It’s Your Delivery Method
What if there were another way to communicate about hand safety in the workplace? Consider how you learned, remembered, and applied your most enduring life lessons. How many times did your parents try to tell you how to handle a situation? Did you listen? Probably not. Chances are, you had to go out and try it for yourself before you learned the lesson.
How much of the information in instruction manuals are you able remember and apply? Do you find yourself going back to consult instructions, time and again? But, once you’ve actually performed the task, it’s suddenly clear exactly what you need to do, in the specific order it needs to be done. After that, you probably throw away the instructions.

Experience Is the Best Teacher
How does this relate to your hand-safety talks? In the same way you barely listened to your parents, or absorb information from instruction manuals, your workers are missing much of what you’re telling them in your safety talks. Words aren’t always real enough to act as a catalyst to change your workers’ hand-safety habits and practices.
Experiential learning makes the most impact, anchoring a desired behavior in a person, a team, or an entire organization. Given that you can’t go around deliberately injuring your workforce just to drive home a safety lesson, how can you incorporate experiential learning into your hand-safety program? Easy. Use a role-playing demonstration to simulate hand injuries throughout your workplace.

Running a Hand-Injury Simulation
First, get management buy-in for the simulation. Hand injuries are one of the most common categories of workplace injury, occurring in every industry, from construction to retail. This makes a hand-injury simulation relevant to every worker, and a valuable real-world demonstration.
Everyone will enjoy playing along in this unusual safety demonstration because it’s new, different, and almost like a game. How often do your workers get to play games at work? It’s easy to drive home the importance of hand safety in the workplace using experiential learning. There are two basic approaches you can take.
In the first approach, you and upper management are the only parties that know about the hand-injury simulation. Determine a method of selecting your “injury victims.” You might select every fifth worker that enters the workplace that day. Bind up one of their hands, randomly selecting either their dominant or non-dominant hand, so that the impact of both types of injury is assessable in after-simulation review sessions.
For the second approach, have every worker and team leader bind up one of their hands. Do one of yours, too. Again, include both dominant and non-dominant hands.
Regardless of your approach, have the injured parties try to perform their jobs with one hand for the rest of the day. If they need to ask for help, let them. This will make it harder for any team to accomplish its duties. That is the point. If you need to realign personnel to get things done, do it. Remember, you want this simulation to be as realistic as possible. If they’re willing, ask them to avoid using that hand at home that night, as well, although they can remove the bandage.

After-Action Assessment: What Did You Learn?
The following day, set up a safety meeting. Thank everyone for participating. Start a discussion by sharing your own frustrations at not being able to fully use your injured hand. What did you find most difficult? What sort of adaptations did you make to get your job done? Ask everyone to share their own experience.
Ask your team leaders how these injuries impacted team performance. What did they have to do in order to cope with having an injured worker? Was production affected? Were any customer orders delayed? For those who took their injury home with them, how did it impact their home life?
Then re-emphasize your hand-safety program, policies, and procedures. Review the importance of a safety knife in light of the statistics shared here. Make sure that your workers clearly see the connection between adhering to the hand-safety program and the lack of injuries that come from program compliance.
Remind them that even one moment of inattention to detail when performing dangerous tasks may easily result in a hand injury that is debilitating for weeks, months, or even permanently.

Think Hand Safety: Comply With Your Hand-Safety Program
Our hands are critical to many of the tasks we perform in our daily lives, both at home and in the workplace. Hands are very complex structures, composed of bones, muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, and skin. An injury of one structural component affects the total functionality of the hand.
Because of the hand’s structure, recovery from a hand injury is difficult and takes anywhere from weeks to months. Some injuries result in permanent disability. Wherever safer cutting tools are available, make them part of your hand safety program to avoid the trauma of hand injuries and the extended recovery periods. Remind your workers that their hand safety is, well, in their own hands.

About the Author: TJ Scimone founded Slice, Inc. in 2008. His priority is design, innovation, and safety in cutting tools. The result is a unique line of tools featuring ceramic blades with Slice’s proprietary finger-friendly® grind.