By T.J. Scimone
By T.J. Scimone
June 18, 2019 – Hand health is an important issue for every electrician who uses cutting tools. The profession requires fine motor skills for many common tasks; indeed, for some electricians, this is the case for almost everything they do. An injured hand, depending on the severity, could mean time away from work or even the end of their career. After all, without healthy hands, it is difficult to continue working.
The central safety concern in the industry is, of course, avoiding contact with live electricity. Even with today’s protective measures, electrical shocks are still a major hazard.
With so much of the industry’s attention focused on electrical dangers, however, professionals can easily overlook the importance of other, seemingly less pressing protocols. These include being sure to use the safest cutting tools available.
The problem at hand
While hand injuries may not be fatal, they can certainly be serious. Hands are valuable assets that must be protected. Unfortunately, many workers aren’t getting the message.
According to Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) a federal government department, more Canadian workplace injuries affect hands than any other body part. In total, there are more than 500,000 cases of hand injuries every year. In the U.S., according the National Safety Council (NSC), cuts, lacerations and punctures—most of which affect the hands—are all among the top classifications of injuries that keep people away from work.
Further, lacerations, cuts and punctures are largely caused by cutting tools. Given there is at least one such tool in any electrician’s belt, addressing its safe design and use is an appropriate place to start your hand safety protocols.
Get a grip
Before getting into safe-use protocols, make sure you have the right tools from the start. Their designs should include features that make them as safe as possible, both by preventing the aforementioned injuries and by improving ergonomics.
Ergonomically designed tools fit comfortably in your hand and allow for a natural grip and motion, which in turn cuts down on hand and forearm fatigue and overuse injuries. Repetitive stress injuries (RSIs) are among the most common but preventable injuries in the workplace.
Does the tool feature a safety blade? Consider also its longevity. What materials were used to manufacture the handle and the blade?
Due to the very nature of their work, electricians often require non-conductive, non-sparking and non-magnetic tools. Unfortunately, these tools’ blades typically dull very quickly because they are made of soft metals, like brass, copper or bronze. Their users must change the blades often, a practice that is both costly and dangerous in its own right.
Ceramic blades, which offer the same non-conductive, non-sparking, non-magnetic properties, are a good alternative to soft metals. As long as they are designed with durability in mind, they are much longer lasting.
Fits like a glove
Even if you have the safest tool in hand, you should also protect your digits by wearing safety gloves.
These should be chosen to provide the appropriate level of cut protection for the required task, but it is also important that they fit well. Ill-fitting gloves can cause more problems than they prevent.
Smooth to the touch
Tool maintenance is another consideration. All pieces of the tool need to fit together snugly and all moving parts should function smoothly.
Always change the blades as soon as they become so dull that they require extra effort to cut. Blades are most dangerous when they are either (a) overly sharp or (b) too dull. Using too much force to make a cut increases the chances of the knife slipping uncontrollably.
Pointing the way forward
When you’re cutting, you work area should be clear of any objects or people that might get in the way. With this in mind, always be aware of where your blade is going next. Never cut toward yourself and ensure any body parts—like the fingers of your other hand—are not in the intended path of the blade.
When finished, house the blade properly and store the tool in a safe place.
Of course, lacerations, cuts and punctures aren’t the only injuries people’s hands may sustain. Be mindful of these additional hazards, which are also common in many workplaces:
Smashing and pinching
Many injuries are caused by hands getting smashed or pinched. To prevent them from happening, be aware of your surroundings, where your hands are and where they are going. Always use a flashlight if you have to put your hand into an area where you cannot see well. Be especially alert to any objects with hinges that can pinch and wherever two objects mesh or move together.
Chemicals and surfaces
Whenever working around chemicals or other potentially hazardous substances, gloves are a must. In many cases, gloves that serve as safe chemical barriers are not the same as those used for laceration prevention, so be sure to make the appropriate choice for the given task.
Also, be aware of surfaces that may be too hot or too cold to touch, along with those that may have sharp or otherwise hazardous objects or features.
Tripping and falling
While tripping and falling are common causes of a variety of injuries in the workplace, they are particularly hazardous to wrists and fingers, because our most common reaction in the moment is to use our hands to break our fall. Prevention is the best measure.
Many people trip over objects in walkways, so always be sure these traffic areas are free of such hazards. Be careful on stairs and always put one of your hands on the railing.
More than anything, pay attention to your surroundings. When walking, put down your phone or other distracting device and be aware of where you are putting your feet.
Indeed, hand injuries are preventable. With the right awareness, equipment and attention, you can eliminate them from your work environment.
Ideally, safety managers provide regular safety moments about hand safety to remind you and your co-workers of best practices and to keep hand safety front of mind. Schedule weekly or even daily reminders for yourself and your workers to remain vigilant about keeping hands injury-free.
T.J. Scimone is founder and CEO of Slice, which manufactures cutting tools, including knives for electricians. For more information, visit www.sliceproducts.com.
This article originally appeared in the June 2019 issue of Electrical Business magazine.