Preventing hand and finger injuries graphic

What are the common causes of hand and finger injuries at work and how can we mitigate the risk of these injuries using the Hierarchy of Controls?

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Our hands, wrists, fingers, and thumbs are not just tools; they are essential to our daily activities. However, in work environments, they become vulnerable to a range of injuries which range from minor cuts, strains, and sprains that may temporarily hamper productivity to catastrophic crush injuries or amputations that alter lives forever.

Hand and finger injuries hold immense power over a worker’s well-being and livelihood. The significance of protecting these intricate body parts cannot be overstated.

To comprehend the gravity of hand and finger injuries, let’s examine some relevant statistics:

  • WorkSafe Victoria accepted 137 claims for workplace amputation injuries in 2022, resulting in over 150 amputated body parts, including at least 127 fingers or thumbs. These incidents primarily occurred due to fingers being caught or crushed in machinery or severed while using a saw.
  • In New South Wales (NSW), from January to July 2019, icare received 13,317 claims related to arm, shoulder, and hand injuries.
  • In Western Australia (WA), during the 2018/19 period, hand injury claims accounted for 18% of all claims lodged in the workers’ compensation scheme, totalling 4,786 claims.

When it comes to the safety of our hands and fingers at the workplace, prevention is key. We can mitigate the risks using an approach called the ‘Hierarchy of Controls’. This effective strategy helps us to establish multiple layers of defence against potential hazards.

Common causes of hand and finger injuries at work and their impact.

Click on a cause to find out more

HAV occurs when vibrations are transmitted to the hand and arm while using hand-held power tools or hand-guided machinery such as jackhammers, chainsaws, grinders, drills, riveters, and impact wrenches. The effects of HAV on the hand and arm can be significant and include disrupted circulation, nerve damage, tingling and numbness, and damage to tendons, muscles, bones, joints and the musculoskeletal system.

HAV can also lead to debilitating disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome affecting a person’s ability to perform tasks requiring fine motor skills. It can also lead to vibration white finger which reduces blood flow to the fingers, leading to changes in skin colour, blanching, pain and difficulty gripping objects and performing tasks that require manual dexterity.

A leading cause of work-related hand and wrist injuries is the improper use of sharp-edged tools, with knives being particularly hazardous. Inadequate training, improper technique, or lack of appropriate protective equipment can contribute to these injuries.

Hand injuries can occur when they are caught, crushed, jammed, or pinched between objects. Common scenarios include incidents involving tools, heavy machinery, closing doors, or moving objects.

Contact with powered hand tools and machinery poses a significant risk to hand and finger safety. Workers using drills, saws, grinders, or other power tools must receive proper training on their safe operation.

Jobs in industries such as construction, manufacturing, agriculture and waste management pose a risk of foreign objects penetrating the skin resulting in puncture wounds, infections, or other complications.

Exposure to hot surfaces, flames, chemicals, or electrical sources can result in burns or thermal injuries to the hands and fingers.

Repetitive motions, forceful exertions, and awkward hand positions can lead to RSIs such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis or trigger finger. These injuries develop over time due to prolonged and repetitive use of the hands and fingers and can even happen to desk-based workers using computers.

How to mitigate the risk of hand and finger injuries using the Hierarchy of Controls

The goal of this approach is to move as high as possible up the hierarchy. The higher the control method on the hierarchy, the better the level of protection.

Here’s a handy guide to illustrate how the Hierarchy of Controls can be applied to hand and finger safety in the workplace:

Safety Culture and Leadership is essential – are you and your team doing all they can?

Creating a strong safety culture that prevents these injuries begins with leadership. When managers and supervisors prioritise safety, set clear expectations, and actively engage employees in safety initiatives, a positive shift occurs. Open lines of communication and regular safety meetings foster a shared responsibility for hand and finger injury prevention. Leaders who lead by example, actively address safety concerns, and encourage reporting of near misses empower their workforce to prioritise safety every day.

Safety Dimensions offer a range of programs to support you and your team to prioritise safety and prevent life-altering hand and finger injuries so you can create workplace where everyone goes home with their most valuable tools intact.