New Study Points to Causes, Prevention of Hand Injuries

Fingers and hands are the most frequent body parts injured at work and treated in hospital emergency departments. Each year, 1.08 million people are treated for work-related finger and hand injuries.

In a new study published in the April issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, researchers describe the type, location and severity of occupational hand injuries among 1,166 patients recruited from 23 occupational health clinics in five New England states. Subjects ranged in age from 18 to 77 years, and approximately 75 percent were men. They were employed in machine trades, service work, structural work, and less frequently, in benchwork, professional, technical managerial and clerical and sales work.

The researchers, led by Gary Sorock, PhD., Liberty Mutual Research Center for Safety and Health, found the majority of subjects (83.4 percent) had a single type of injury: 62.6 percent were lacerations, 13.1 percent were crush injuries, 8 percent were avulsions and 6.1 percent were punctures. Metal items, such as nails, metal stock and burrs accounted for 38.4 percent of the injuries, followed by hand tools with blades and powered machinery (24.4 percent and 12.3 percent, respectively). Hand tools with blades were least likely to result in multiple types of injuries, whereas powered machines or nonpowered hand tools were more likely to result in multiple types of injuries than other injury sources.

"Prevention of hand injury is likely to require multiple interventions, particularly when the risk of a hand injury is high," said researchers. "Use of personal protective equipment, administrative controls and design of equipment and tools (e.g. machine guarding) that reduce the likelihood of contact with moving machine parts, sharp metal items and knives are all important approaches to prevention."

They noted that glove use has been shown to reduce hand injury risk by 20 percent in a group of study participants. They also said that machinery malfunctions or doing an unusual task contributed to hand injuries, suggesting that enhanced maintenance audits could have a significant impact on reducing injury.

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