Protect the hands that pay you

Dec. 5, 2012

Protecting your bottom line starts with protecting workers’ hands.

As a manager, you probably ponder about different strategies to improve productivity, results, morale and the always critical bottom line. While training employees with innovative equipment and implementing market knowledge is important, protecting their safety should be among your top priorities in order to elevate your staff’s performance. Particularly, hand care is an often overlooked area of employee safety.

Tools and equipment have progressed quite significantly in the past 50 years. Earlier work was more manually-demanding, putting stress and strain on employees. Today, there is plenty of automation involved in the tasks our workers perform. Additionally, ergonomic features have evolved to become the standard of equipment and bottles, rather than a more expensive choice.

In a perfect world, our industry’s front-line workers wouldn’t be at risk for musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and other serious hand-related injuries, cross-contamination wouldn’t be a concern and illness and disease would be taboo. Have you come back down to Earth yet?

 Ergonomics focused on hands

In short, MSDs are the result of workers using repetitive motions over a prolonged period of time. The health issues that employees have reported range from minor discomfort, aches and pains to more serious medical conditions that required time off from work and medical treatment. In more serious cases, treatment and recovery were not effective, resulting in permanent disability, loss of employment opportunities and overall setbacks in their quality of life.

There are several reasons why our industry’s workers may be at risk for MSDs, hand injuries and aches, pains and discomfort. Among the main factors are:

  • Manual handling:Lifting, pulling, pushing, carrying and holding. Tasks that require these actions can include moving and transporting heavy equipment, such as water treatment equipment and bottles.
  • Awkward hand positions:Contorting hand posture to abnormal positions to install or maintain systems.
  • Bending and crouching:Again, risk occurs when constantly installing or maintaining equipment.

 Other hand care tips

Employees who handle water and chemicals are at risk for skin irritation, dryness and burns. Our skin, which is the body’s largest organ, is the No. 1 most important element in our defensive immune system. Every day, your skin eliminates germs, bacteria and illness from entering the body.

Making sure that your employees protect the skin on their hands is important to their overall hand health. Included in overall hand health is hand-washing. Proper hand-washing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), involves using water, soap and washing for at least 20 seconds.

Drying hands thoroughly is just as important as washing them in the first place. Wet hands can attract and retain more germs and bacteria than dry hands. Educate employees on these facts of hand-washing and drying and ensure they are following protocol.

Recently, with the emergence of hand sanitizers, CDC has also addressed its proper use. According to, "Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of germs…. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in some situations, but sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs." The website adds that hand sanitizers are not effective when hands are visibly dirty.

Earlier, skin irritation and burns were mentioned. Insist that employees inform you immediately if the chemicals they are using result in skin irritation. Some employees are more sensitive than others. Investigate the situation and, if needed, switch products or provide gloves or other personal protection equipment.

Water, prolonged exposure to cold outdoor air and excessive hand-washing are some of the factors that can cause dry skin. When skin is dry, its function and purpose are impaired. Cracks and cuts can be perfect entrances for germs and bacteria into the body. Employees should use moisturizing skin care hand lotion as needed to prevent the development of dry skin. Furthermore, you should make lotion available for workers to use at work.

Supplying gloves is another step managers can take to protect employees’ hands. Be mindful of skin irritation and allergy issues associated with using disposable gloves and choose a higher grade, hypoallergenic brand.

Most of all, managers must use commonsense when promoting employee hand health. Evaluate the tasks workers perform and look for improvements with safety and health in mind. Moving forward, we anticipate the need for manual labor to be reduced even further and replaced with automation. However, employees’ hands will continue to be at risk for the various reasons outlined in this article. Protecting your bottom line starts with protecting workers’ hands.

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