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5 Tips to Reduce Hand Injuries in Food Manufacturing

by Tony Geng on July 8, 2014

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The food manufacturing industry has some of the highest risk of hand injury and amputation. A Bureau of Labor Statistics study in 2012 showed that injuries in the food industry resulted in some of the longest periods of time away from work. The major goal of every company in the food industry should be to provide solutions to employees that reduce hand injuries — recordable and non-recordable.

Here are some tips to reduce hand injuries in food manufacturing.

 

1. Use the Right Glove for the Job:

Creating safe procedures that reduce the risk to workers should always be the first course of action. Part of that means choosing the right glove for the job.

There isn’t a single glove for every job — that would be too easy. The steps you should take when selecting a glove for the food industry is:

  1. Look for a glove that is CFIA (Canadian) or FDA (American) approved for safe food handling.
  2. Consider the hazards: Is there a risk of cut, puncture, wet conditions?
  3. If so, what level. Using a butcher knife and changing the blade on a deli slicer require different levels of cut resistance.
  4. Will they need to be washed? If so, choose something made with Dyneema® or TenActiv™ which can be used with bleach. Do not bleach Kevlar®, it will turn into soup.

Superior Glove disposable glove food prep

 

2. Determine the problems in your own plant:

According to the National Safety Council, the average hand injury claim exceeds $6,000 and with close to one million workers being sent to the emergency room each year, they are a common and expensive occurrence.

To identify the risks in your own plant:

  1. Look for patterns or trends of hand injuries within the company: A trend analysis should be performed based on a combination of leading and lagging performance indicators.
  2. Analyzing these trends can enable facility management to understand and learn the types of hand injuries that employees experience and the behaviors and tasks that lead to injuries.
  3. With the results of the trend analysis, you should be able to identify potential sources of hazards.
  4. Take a systemic approach to a hand hazard assessment to ensure that each possible risk and hazard is being measured, monitored and mitigated.
  5. Focus on the work environment and include the workers, tasks, tools and environment to determine the risk.
  6. Audit should be conducted on a periodic basis to determine the effectiveness of current strategies, policies and PPE.

If you need help with this type of assessment, or simply don’t know where to start, you can always solicit some help. Superior Glove offers a Superior Advantage Program (which is free) to help you through this process.

hand advocate program. Glove Audit
hand advocate program. Glove Audit

3. Improve Safety Culture:

A great way to reduce risky behavior is addressing your workplace safety culture. Understanding how your company views safety can help you determine how employees feel about safety concerns. It also gives the employees accountability to identify hazards before an accident occurs.

The success of a company for preventing hand injuries is largely reliant on the management’s commitment to safety. Commitment to safety from management can trickle down into workers, which in turn can create a healthy and safe work environment. Give workers chances for open dialogue and collaboration opportunities for the best results.

4. Improve Ergonomics:

One of the most common hand injuries is carpal tunnel syndrome which is an injury often caused by overexertion and improper positioning of the hand. The injury is characterized by swelling and entrapment of the median nerve in the wrist. A BLS study showed that repetitive injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, resulted in the longest absences from work.

The chance of injury is greater when repetitive jobs are done in forceful or awkward positions. For example, a worker who has to grip and squeeze a food product dispenser throughout an entire shift most likely will not have the chance to put down the dispenser and is more likely to suffer an injury.

Superior Glove cut hazard

Hiring an occupational therapist to visit your facility can give you ideas of how to perform tasks more safely and efficiently. Examples that can help workers avoid carpal tunnel injury:

  • If working at a table, position palms facing down, wrists aligned straight and move positions often.
  • Use both hands to perform tasks and grip objects with the whole hand, not just the fingers.
  • Don’t put pressure on the palm of the hand.

Variety is the spice of life and the workplace should be no different. Adding variety to the daily tasks will interrupt repetition and can reduce risk of injury or common hand damage. A worker going through rotating tasks should not be subjected to multiple tasks involving similar movement. For this plan to be effective, new tasks should differ with the muscles and body parts used, repetition rate, amount of physical exertion required, environmental conditions, work place and visual and mental demands.

Workers using vibrating hand tools are often subject to more injuries like Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS). Repeated or prolonged exposure to hand vibration can result in pain, fatigue, numbness, tingling and decreased sensitivity to touch. To prevent this:

  • Use low-vibration tools.
  • Inspect and maintain power tools on a regular basis.
  • Follow safe work practices and reduce the grip on the tool handle.
  • Reduce the force applied to the object.
  • Provide workers with gloves that are made with vibration-absorbing material.

(Read how our Vibrastop™ anti-vibration gloves helped reduce HAVS in one workplace then get a FREE sample below!)

Hand arm vibration syndrome. HAVS. Anti-vibration gloves.
Hand arm vibration syndrome. HAVS. Anti-vibration gloves.

 

5. Choose the Correct Hand Tools:

Many employees who work in food manufacturing use hand tools for gripping and cutting. Because of this, it is necessary to choose the right tool for each job and the right tool for the worker’s hand. Choose tools that maximize performance, minimize physical demands, enhance work quality and prevent worker fatigue.

Train workers to use gentle pressure on the tool. Using excessive force when gripping a tool can lead to fatigue and overexertion. Ensure there are no white knuckles, overexertion of the index finger or over-bending of the thumb.

In short, make a plan and stick to it!

Unfortunately, some companies may choose to reduce the cost of business by lowering the cost per unit. Some companies may choose to cut back on safety practices or the cost of auditing safety practices. Sometimes, workers pay the ultimate price for this in injuries. It may seem like a headache, but taking the time to analyze your workplace and taking steps to reduce hand injuries can save your company thousands. Most importantly, it reduces accidents and injuries that can permanently disable a worker. It is a no-brainer that companies who make safety a priority are often the most successful companies. Well-implemented safety programs can actually increase revenue for a company, maintain product integrity and improve employee morale.

Put in place a PPE policy that provides workers with comfortable gloves that do the job correctly while protecting hands. Choose the correct gloves for the job. Along with enacting a PPE plan comes policies to make sure workers are using their protective equipment. Do your best to create a culture of safety in the workplace and reward workers for correctly using equipment. At the same time, you may want to consider penalizing workers who use PPE and other equipment incorrectly.

Most importantly, give workers the chance to give feedback and suggestions for improvement in the company. This helps workers to feel more important and critical in a company. Be open to any changes or procedures that may save your company time and money.
heat from oven, food heat hazard


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