Everyone needs their hands, but most manual workers are men, and men are more frequently injured. Hand injuries cause a great deal of lost productivity and income. Fractures and tendon injuries often need several months of rehab before returning to full manual work. Recovery after more complex hand injuries, especially involving nerves, is often incomplete.
We tend to take our hands for granted until we have a hand injury ourselves, and we then realise just how vitally important they are. They are tough, but need to be respected and protected, particularly when using power tools.
Here are some of the situations in which I see hand injuries occur more commonly:
- Getting into a fight. Hands are often the biggest losers here.
- Punching walls or desks in frustration or anger.
- When starting a new job.
- Being distracted or rushing while using tools.
- When using a new tool or machine, i.e. the Father’s Day syndrome of a newly acquired power tool.
- When clearing a jammed tool while the power is still switched on, e.g. a lawnmower.
- Modifying tools for use other than their main intended purpose, e.g. using a circular saw blade on an angle grinder, or a circular saw to cut a tree branch.
- Professional tradesman doing work in a less prepared environment, e.g. working at home or helping a neighbor, relative or friend, and using power tools without a workbench and vice.
- Not wearing protective gloves.
- Using the hand as a tool, e.g. ‘hammering’ with the palm.
- Wearing rings while climbing or doing heavy manual work.
Sport also causes hand injuries but other than awareness of the riskier sports there is not much that can be done in prevention, except wearing appropriate gloves when possible. The sports that seem to have a higher risk of hand injury include:
- Oztag more than other football codes
- Netball more than basketball
- Cricket (fielding and batting)
- Martial arts and boxing
- Skiing and snowboarding
- Rock climbing
- Surfing (leg ropes)
- Fishing (hooks)
- Boating (rope injuries and crush injuries when mooring at a jetty)
Reduce your risk of hand injury! Recognise the risky situations above and make sure you are working and playing comfortably. Don’t hit things (or people) with your hands and don’t leave the safety gloves in a nearby drawer!
Dr Tim Heath
Director – Sydney Hospital Hand Foundation