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Keep Your Hands to Yourself!

Just about everyone who has worked on a job site has experienced an injury caused by a hand tool. Most people even seem to expect it to happen, assuming it will be a minor injury like a scrape or a bang on a knuckle. However, hand tools can cause very serious, career-ending accidents like the loss of an eye, a finger or even a hand, so let’s look at different types of hand tools and the injuries they may cause, and hopefully this knowledge will help you prevent possible future injuries.

Be aware that hand tools in this context don’t include hand operated power tools. A hand tool is a portable piece of equipment that is used to assist our hands and make a task easier and quicker to complete. These tools are designed to complete tasks that would be very difficult, if not impossible, to complete with just the hands. Hand tools can be placed into many categories based on how they assist with the completion of a task. These categories include the following:

• Impact tools like chisels, punches and hammers.

• Wrenches.

• Bladed tools like knives, axes and wedges.

• Pliers and nippers.

• Vises used to hold working materials steady.

• Saws.

• Crowbars.

• Jacks.

Every trade won’t have a need for tools in all these categories, but on a multiple employer site with many different trades, employees have a very good chance of coming into contact most of them. The majority of injuries caused by these relatively simple tools arises from using a tool for a purpose for which it wasn’t specifically designed.

For example, pliers are often considered a general-purpose tool. They are meant for gripping and cutting operations only. However, they are very often used as a substitute for wrenches. This is discouraged because the jaws of the pliers are flexible, frequently slip and don’t hold the work securely like a set of pliers is designed to do.

Most injuries that are caused by hand tools involve an injury to one or both hands. Each human hand is a complex engineering masterpiece. Each hand is made up of a collection of 27 bones, 17 muscles and associated tendons, ligaments, blood vessels and nerves. These many pieces come together to allow you to perform all the varied tasks that make you a skilled and valued employee. Not only does having use of your hands allow you to accomplish tasks at work, they also allow you to live a full life—dress yourself, open a door or even just feed yourself. A hand injury may not be life threatening but will probably be life changing since these injuries can be very difficult to repair.

Injuries related to hand tools make up between 7 and 8 percent of all compensable injuries each year, many involving severe, permanent disabilities. Some of the more common hand tool-related injuries and possible causes are these:

Puncture wounds. Puncture wounds very commonly result from the use of a screwdriver with a loose handle. This can allow the hand to slip causing the blade to cut or puncture the hand and fingers.

Loss of an eye and/or vision. Using impact tools (hammers, chisels, etc) without proper eye protection is a no-no. The strike of one of these tools can cause a chip or fragment to fly into the eye.

Broken bones. This is a common injury cause by using the wrong hammer for a task, or using something other than an impact tool for that job. A very common injury caused by this is smashing and breaking a bone in the hand.

Severed fingers, tendons and/or arteries. Using a dull knife or chisel or even using a screwdriver improperly will often result in a crippling injury. Medicine is now capable of reattaching these structures, but they can still end the career of a good worker.

Bruising. This is a common injury on any job site, but the chances of it happening are increased greatly by using hand tools incorrectly or using the wrong tool for the job.

Hand tools often contribute to what are referred to as ergonomic injuries. Ergonomic injuries are injuries to the muscles, tendons, joints and nerves, the so-called soft tissue of the body. These injuries include strains and sprains to many body parts, inflammation of tendons (or tendonitis) as well as carpal tunnel syndrome of the hands. These types of injuries can occur all at once or develop over time and may require surgery to repair.

As with any safety issue on a job site, prevention is the best way to keep employees safe. Using a tool only for its designed task is an easy way to prevent injuries. It is also important to visually inspect a hand tool before each use for any signs of wear or defect. Any tool that is found to be defective should be repaired or tagged as “defective,” removed from service and replaced. At the end of each shift, hand tools should be cleaned, sharpened if necessary, and stored in a tool box or on a tool rack to help keep them in good working order.

Because of your choice of careers, your hands are your bread and butter, a necessity to your employment. Any one of these injuries can cause a permanent disability that could quite possibly end your career on a worksite.

These injuries don’t have to happen. They can be easily avoided by paying attention to the task at hand and using the correct tool for that task.

Diane Kelly is a safety specialist with INTEC, Waverly, Pa.

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