Hand Safety Measures: Avoiding Offshore Hand & Finger Injuries
In the high-stakes, high-pressure world of offshore work, the hands are an indispensable asset. From managing equipment to ensuring the smooth operation of complex machinery, workers’ hands are constantly in use. Unfortunately, this makes them vulnerable to various injuries.
According to statistics from the International Association of Drilling Contractors, hand and finger injuries accounted for approximately 43% of all recorded incidents on drilling rigs. Offshore workers’ hands and fingers may be at risk of sustaining catastrophic injuries by being struck by objects, caught in equipment (such as deck winches), burned by heat or chemicals, and more. When you consider that hands and fingers have a higher concentration of nerve endings and pain receptors than any other part of the body, it’s easy to see why these injuries can be so painful and debilitating.
Let’s delve into the types of hand and finger injuries that might affect offshore workers, understand their causes, and discuss what employers can do to protect their workforce.
Types of Offshore Hand & Finger Injuries
Offshore workers often deal with cuts and lacerations. Picture this: a seasoned worker, handling cables and tools all day, every day. One slip without proper gloves, and he has a deep laceration. This is not an uncommon story. Workers handling sharp objects like cables, tools, or equipment are at risk.
Then, there are fractures and sprains. Imagine someone lifting heavy machinery. A slight misjudgment or loss of grip can result in a heavy object falling on the hand or an unnatural twisting of the fingers. This could lead to fractures or sprains. Consider a fictional offshore worker named Michael who suffered a fractured finger while moving equipment. It took him weeks to recover, and during this period, he had to learn to perform tasks with his non-dominant hand, which significantly impacted his ability to perform his normal duties and even day-to-day activities like getting dressed or putting on his boots.
Pinches and crush injuries are also typical, occurring when hands or fingers are caught between objects such as machinery, heavy equipment, or doors. These injuries can be so severe as to cause the immediate and traumatic amputation of a finger or hand. Or, surgical amputation may be required if the finger or hand cannot be saved. Even when amputation is not required, pinch and crush injuries may require surgery and months of physical therapy. Retaining full dexterity can be challenging or impossible.
Burns are another concern for offshore workers. Exposed pipes, steam, chemicals, or even electrical equipment can be sources. Moreover, constant use of vibrating machinery and tools can cause vibration syndrome, where blood vessels in the hands get damaged over time, affecting nerves and leading to a loss of sensation. Cold exposure can lead to frostbite. Cuts and open wounds in a damp environment are prone to infections. The potential threats are considerable.
Causes of Offshore Worker Hand & Finger Injuries
Now, what causes these injuries? A lack of training tops the list. When workers aren’t taught the proper use of tools and equipment, they're bound to make mistakes. The absence of appropriate safety equipment, especially gloves, is another culprit. Complacency and negligence among offshore employers can lead to lax safety standards, such as subpar lockout/tagout procedures. Lastly, machinery and tools that aren't properly guarded or maintained can cause serious accidents and injuries.
How Employers Should Protect Their Crews
The first step is providing the appropriate protective gear. Safety gloves are essential. They should be fit for the specific task, whether that’s cut-resistant gloves for handling sharp objects, insulated gloves for hot objects or electrical work, or anti-vibration gloves. They should also fit each worker properly.
In addition to protective gear, machinery should have guards installed to prevent hands or fingers from getting caught in moving parts. Safety switches that immediately cut off power in case of malfunction are also vital, as are proper lockout/tagout procedures to ensure machinery is not energized during maintenance or cleaning.
When it comes to hand and finger safety in offshore operations, training and education cannot be emphasized enough. Regular training on the safe handling of tools and machinery is crucial. Employers should also implement safety awareness programs that highlight the importance of hand and finger safety and teach proper techniques for lifting and handling heavy equipment.
Ensuring regular inspection and maintenance of tools and machinery is another key aspect. A clutter-free working environment can prevent trips and falls. Employers should also have proper emergency response plans in place, including first aid procedures for hand and finger injuries.
Encouraging a culture of reporting and communication is important as well. Employers should establish an incident reporting system and create open channels for communication where workers can share their concerns and suggestions—without fear of retaliation or punishment.
It is vital to remember that protecting the hands is not just about avoiding physical injuries. It's about safeguarding livelihoods and ensuring that workers can continue to perform their tasks effectively and safely. At Arnold & Itkin, we stand for offshore workers’ rights and will continue to fight for those who have suffered significant trauma because of the inaction, negligence, and outright wrongdoing of their employers. Contact us today to discuss your case and the ways we can help.