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Hand Safety: Four Simple Steps to Avoid Injury

What would you do without your hands?
Mankind's Most Valuable Tools

If you ask an audience to name what they believe is the most valuable tool at their disposal, answers will vary depending on the person, and chances are the answers will relate to hardware or physical tools you can touch. However, the most quintessential tools humans have at their disposal is their hands: without them, your ability to operate any other tool or achieve any other task is hindered at best.

There are numerous studies, articles and publications that talk extensively about the importance of hand safety, so we do not need to expand on that here. As with most pre-tour discussion topics, the objective is to quickly raise awareness with the crew to keep it fresh in everyone's minds. To this effect, we can summarize the extensive research, incident investigations, statistics, and reports into simple steps we can take that are easy to remember.

You may open the topic by asking the audience to make a fist and try executing a simple task, such as tying your shoes, taking a bath, or holding your child's hand. Regardless of the references, incidents, or personal events you want to use to drive the point across, what it all boils down to are four steps we can all follow for every task that are proven to minimize (if not eliminate) the probability or consequence of an injury:

  1. Identify the hazards

  2. Risk Assess

  3. Select the Right Tools

  4. Use the Selected Tools

Identify the Hazards

Prior to starting any task, the first step for injury prevention is knowing what to expect. Understand what / why / how to perform the task ahead, then take the time to walk or visualize the site in your mind and make note of what could possibly go wrong. Will I be exposed to extreme temperatures? Is there a potential for unintended energy release? Can something heavy drop or move in some way? Where is the line of fire? As the old saying goes: "knowing your enemy is half the battle." Seek participation from everyone involved, especially those that are not part of the routine. You'd be surprised of the things pointed out by a second set of eyes that you may have previously overlooked.

Risk Assess

Once you know the hazards of the particular task ahead, the next step is to assess the hazards and address them to lower the risk to as low as reasonably practicable (ALARP). Aim to eliminate the hazard altogether, which could be repositioning outside the line of fire, secondary retention for heavy equipment, or using a tool designed to improve safety (such as a safety chisel or grinder equipped with a handle). If you are unable to eliminate the hazard, try to mitigate the probability or the consequence as much as possible. Keep at it until you and your team feel comfortable that the risk is low enough for you to proceed.

Select the Right Tools

Now that you know the hazards and know what you need to do to lower the risks, the next step is to select the right tools for the job. This extends beyond the wrenches or hammers though. Selecting the right gloves for the job as part of your Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is just as important. If you are handling chemicals, use a rubber or impermeable glove suitable for handling. If you need dexterity to handle small screws or have to reach tight places, a latex glove may be more suitable than an impact-resistant glove (the standard gloves for offshore nowadays). If you will be in proximity to high-voltage equipment, welding, or handling liquid gases, select the gloves rated for the job. When in doubt, it is worth being a little more uncomfortable but be well protected, than be comfortable and have no protection at all.

Use the Selected Tools

This may seem common-sense, but statistics show that the most common leading factors to hand crushing, lacerations, and puncture wounds stem from people wearing the wrong type of gloves or choosing not to wear any protection at all. All this work to identify what could go wrong, assessing the risks, and selecting the right tools for the job, at the end of the day becomes meaningless if people do not wear the right protection and use the right tools. If they are not immediately available; if the job changed or a hazard presents itself that you had not accounted for; if what you are wearing is uncomfortable or preventing you from executing the task; or if you see a team member without gloves on that you know should be wearing some, your obligation is to Stop the Job (also known as take a Time-Out for Safety, or TOFS) and fix the problem. Revisit the applicable previous steps and take the necessary precautions to avoid injury.

Remember: Identify, Risk Assess, Select, and Use. As a wise Rig Supervisor once said: "Hand safety is not rocket science: Wear your damn gloves, and don't put your hands where you wouldn't put your d@&k!!"

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