Hand and finger injuries consistently trend in the oil and gas industry. Historically, hand and finger injuries make up nearly 50 percent of incidents in the oil and gas industry and at some facilities, that number is closer to 80 percent of all recordable incidents.

Threats to the hands include caught between objects and struck by, chemicals, vibration, heat, cuts, bruises, breaks, burns, punctures, amputations, cold and infectious or biological agents. Hands and fingers have more nerve endings per square centimeter that any part of the human body and more pain receptors than any part of our bodies. As a result, injuries are more painful than similar injuries to other parts of the body.

According to the International Association of Drilling Contractors 2014 statistics, hand and finger injuries comprised 43 percent of all recordable incidents on drilling rigs, a slight increase over 2013 (41 percent) and 2012 (40 percent). As a result, companies are concentrating more and more on hand and finger injury prevention strategies.  

Proper Risk Assessment

Proper risk assessment and communication are important in minimizing hand and finger injuries. Identifying related hazards such as pinch points, struck by, cut, puncture and chemical exposure as well as defining suitable control measures should be the starting points for any hand and finger injury prevention plan.

Priority should be given to minimizing employee exposure to unnecessary risks by eliminating hands-on activities if possible or through the implementation of engineering controls. Use of protective gloves should be considered as a last mitigation option in the hierarchy of controls.

Due to the large number of hand and finger injuries each year, most oil and gas companies include hand and finger injury reduction campaigns in their annual HSE plans and define it as one the KPIs. Companies allocate required resources including funding, people and time for implementation of such campaigns. Establishment of a hands and fingers injury working group, conducting awareness sessions, organizing workshops, distribution of awareness posters and introducing better protective gloves are typical activities of these campaigns.   

Increasing awareness of hand and finger injuries and concentrating on risky behaviors that can contribute to them is critical to reducing injuries. Simulating injuries by taping an employee's dominate hand and asking him to perform simple tasks is an effective learning practice, as it helps employees understand why they should care of their hands and fingers all the time.

Having employees who suffered hand and finger injuries speak during training and explain how the injuries impacted the quality of their lives can be very effective in increasing worker awareness. Reviewing safety alerts about hand and finger injuries and regular tool box talks can help increase awareness. Involving employees in activities such as a workplace walkthrough to identify hand hazards can be fundamental in achieving the goal of fewer hand injuries as well.

There is no doubt that the use of hand protection plays a significant role in protecting workers' hands and fingers. According to OSHA, about 30 percent of hand injuries occurred because hand protection was inadequate, damaged or misapplied. High-performance hand protection is required for medium- to heavy-duty tasks – the use of hand tools, pipe handling and valve operation – particularly on drilling rigs "struck by" and "caught between objects" caused 56 percent of the recordable incidents in 2014. The addition of of thermoplastic rubber ribs on gloves to absorb and dissipate impact to the backs of the hands is one of the new technologies that will help decrease hand injuries.

High visibility, waterproof, impact-absorbing, high durability, high dexterity and better grip also are features of gloves used in the oil and gas industry. While wearing hand protection is crucial, selection and wearing the correct type of gloves also is critical. Even though gloves provide high levels of protection, workers are unlikely to wear them for extended periods if the gloves are uncomfortable or hinder their ability to do their jobs.

Using a survey to determine employee use of gloves can help you assess the work environment and determine the type of glove for each task. Many distributors and manufacturers offer the option to trial protective gloves, which can be a good way to establish employee support and assess the suitability of the gloves for your work environment.