Study: Gloves Significantly Reduce Risk of Occupational Hand Injuries

June 4, 2004
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that approximately 110,000 workers with hand and finger injuries lose days away from work annually second only to back strain and sprain but a new study shows that as many as 60 percent of those injuries could be eliminated through the use of appropriate hand protection.

Each year, more than one million U.S. workers receive treatment in emergency departments for acute hand injuries. To better understand the risk factors for hand injuries and to help reduce their occurrence, researchers at the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety, in collaboration with colleagues at the Harvard School of Public Health, conducted a study of occupational acute hand injuries.

Researchers examined seven potential transient (changing) risk factors in the occurrence of acute traumatic hand injury at work. The study found that the risk of hand injury was significantly elevated when equipment, tools or work pieces did not perform as expected, when workers used a different work method or performed an unusual task, and when workers were distracted and rushed. Further, the results indicate that glove use significantly reduced hand injury risk by 60 percent.

"These results provide a clearer view of some lesser-known risks for occupational acute hand injury," said study author David A. Lombardi, Ph.D., a researcher at the Liberty Mutual Research Institute. "By identifying these risk factors we can help to guide the development of prevention strategies to reduce the incidence of work-related acute hand injuries."

In the study, subjects were recruited from 23 occupational health clinics in five New England states over a 3-year period. Each participant experienced an injury to the fingers, hand or wrist while at work. Injuries included laceration, crush, avulsion, puncture, fracture, contusion, amputation or dislocation.

Nearly 1,200 of the workers with hand injuries participated in a telephone interview within approximately two days of their injury. Interviewers asked the participants about exposure to specific transient factors during the 90-minute time period before the injury. Factors of interest included using a machine, tool or work material that performed differently than usual; wearing gloves; performing an unusual task; doing a task using an unusual work method; being distracted or rushed; and feeling ill.

The study, co-sponsored by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), revealed the most common occupational acute hand injury was a laceration (63 percenet), followed by crush injury (13 percent), avulsion (8 percent), puncture (6 percent), fracture (5 percent), contusion (1 percent) and dislocation (0.1 percent). The risk of a hand injury was significantly elevated when working with equipment, tools or work pieces not performing as expected; when using a different work method to do a task; doing an unusual task; and by being distracted or rushed.

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