Hand Safety in the Flooring Industry
Flooring professionals need their hands for just about all the work tasks they do and we all need healthy hands to perform daily activities. Hand safety is very important. Hand injuries are painful as well as disabling, and can easily require you to take time off work. Fixing and healing hands is often a difficult and lengthy process. Treat your hands like the valuable assets they are: make it your priority to protect them. Unfortunately, not enough flooring professionals, or workers in general, are heeding this advice.
In the workplace, hands suffer more injuries than anywhere else on the body, except the back: workers sustain over one million hand injuries annually. And one of the top three types of injuries that result in time away from work is, according to the National Safety Council, cuts, lacerations, and punctures. While these types of injuries can happen anywhere on the body, they most commonly happen to the hands.
Lacerations, cuts, and punctures are, for the most part, caused by cutting tools, which are mainstays of flooring professionals’ work. A great place to start your hand safety journey is to address cutting tool safety.
Cutting Tool Safety
Before you start cutting, make certain you are using a safety knife and that it is truly as safe as possible. Some manufacturers prioritize safety and offer innovative safety designs. Look for tools that have a safety blade or, at the very least, reduce blade exposure with a variety of retraction mechanisms.
For flooring professionals, work environments change, and you may need different types of cutters to suit difference workspaces or materials. Manufacturers who offer a variety of safety knives will be the best ones to turn to for meeting specialty circumstances. These are the tools filling needs that traditional tools don’t.
For instance, if you need to replace flooring in an MRI room, which was a topic in The Floor Pro Community Forum, you must use tools with no metal parts, which poses a challenge because most cutting tools feature metal blades and metal parts. Look for ceramic-blade tools with no metal parts.
Another example: floor professionals often need serrated blades and straight blades, but many tools are either one or the other. Some innovative manufacturers, however, offer replaceable blade tools that are compatible with straight blades and serrated blades: you can switch between each blade type using the same tool.
Ergonomics is another key aspect to consider. Tools that are ergonomically designed will fit comfortably in your hand. This allows for a natural grip and motion. Natural movement cuts down on hand, wrist, and arm fatigue, as well as overuse injuries. Repetitive stress injuries are common but preventable.
For tools to be safe, they need to be in good working order. Never use a cutting tool with moving parts that don’t move smoothly or function well. Blades are most dangerous when they’re overly sharp and when they’re too dull. Dull blades require you to apply more force, which increases the chances of the tool slipping uncontrollably. Look for manufacturers who understand how to create a blade that starts effectively (not dangerously) sharp, and stays effective for a long time.
With the safest tool in hand, you should always use proper PPE. When we’re talking about hand safety, this means wear safety gloves. Gloves should have the appropriate level of cut resistance for the required task, and they should fit properly. Ill-fitting gloves can cause more problems than they solve.
Make sure you know how to use cutting tools properly: pay attention to where the blade is at all times, and where it’s going. Always cut away from your body. And, do your cutting in a space where other workers will not be in the way and where there are no objects that may interfere with your work. Distractions are a major source of injuries in the workplace.
More Ways To Keep Hands Injury-Free
There are other common hand injuries in the workplace. Be aware of these injuries and how to prevent them.
Injuries from Pinches or Smashes
Always pay attention your surroundings. Know where your hands are, and where they’re going at all times. Never rush through a task, especially if that means compromising your ability to assess the safety of your situation. Are there objects overhead or nearby that could fall on your hands? Are there pinch points that you need to avoid? Do you need your flashlight because the area you have to reach into is dim or dark? Take the time keep your hands safe.
Injuries Resulting From a Fall
Flooring professionals often work in construction environments where there are plenty of trip-and-fall or slip-and-fall hazards. Falls are a major cause of hand and wrist injuries because we instinctively put out our hands to protect ourselves when we fall. So, be aware of where you’re walking. Are there tripping hazards to avoid? Can you see where you’re going? Are any of the surfaces slick? Are there lips, steps or uneven transitions that you could catch a toe on? Again, take the time to move through your space safely.
Footwear is important, too. Always wear sturdy shoes that fit properly. And, like your mother told you, keep those laces tied.
Exposure to Chemicals or Solvents
Workers need to protect hands from harmful solvents and chemicals. This typically means wearing gloves that prevent your skin from coming into contact with dangerous substances. Make sure the gloves you choose are the right ones for the job. Different types of gloves are suitable for different types of chemical protection, and these likely aren’t the same gloves that are cut resistant. Your gloves need to fit properly and allow for your hand and fingers to move freely.
Stay Vigilant About Hand Safety
Keep this good news in mind: you can prevent hand injuries. Set yourself up with regular reminders to check and maintain your tools and gloves, and to review hand safety protocols. With proper training, awareness, and equipment it’s easy to keep your hands safe.
TJ Scimone is founder and CEO of Slice, Inc., maker of unique and safer cutting tools. All tools feature patent-pending finger-friendly® ceramic blades and ergonomic handles. Slice hosts a Workplace Safety Blog to provide resources and information about safety at work for employees and management.