One day last month my wife came home from work and told me about a customer she had that morning. He was a young man, in his early 20s and needed a new battery for his car. His hand was wrapped up and she could tell he had a serious hand injury. While switching out his battery he was telling her this has been a really bad week for him. He stated that at work he accidentally cut off his fingers. He lost the middle three fingers on his hand under the 2nd knuckle. A friend and co-worker of mine did a similar thing several years ago with a table saw and lost the same three fingers, but above the 2nd knuckle instead of below. I can’t help but think about how difficult that one mistake, that one instant, is going to make the rest of his life.
Two years ago at the nuclear plant I work at a guy was sweeping the floor in the pipe shop. There was a large pipe, if I remember correctly it was about 36″ in diameter and over 6′ long, sitting on a stand. He went to move the stand, which was on wheels,and the pipe fell. His instinct was to catch the pipe and he got his hand caught between the pipe and the floor, the pipe had a sharp beveled edge and essentially cut off his thumb. They were able to re-attach it, but my understanding is he lost a lot of the functionality of it.
Over 25% of workplace injuries are hand injuries. According the the CDC 41,000 people lose fingers in the US every year. We use our hands to make our income. Missing fingers, missing thumbs, missing hands, greatly reduces the amount of jobs we can perform and thus our income potential. Obviously such injuries greatly affect other aspects of our lives. Think about tying your shoes, making dinner, typing on a computer. All things that are much more difficult to do, if not impossible with severe hand injuries.
One of the key phrases that I don’t like even though I catch myself saying it from time to time is “be careful”. “Be careful” is a two word sentence that gives no real instructions or help. In the nuclear industry, and my home plant in particular, we use a set of human performance tools that are designed to give further instruction in what to do to “be careful” that can be applicable to virtually any situation, at work or off work.
Safety Guiding Principles: Safety Guiding Principles are the core beliefs of the organization that are designed to help individuals and groups keep injuries and events from happening. If we believe, internalize, and execute on the safety guiding principles, injuries are greatly reduced.
- All injuries and events are preventable
- Responsible Leadership and Employee Accountability prevent injuries and events
- Plan safety and human error reduction into your work
- Look out for yourself and each other
Situational Awareness: Be conscious while walking around and working. Situational awareness is being focused on what is going on around you. What are other people doing that can affect you? How have things changed since the last time you were in the area?, etc.
Two Minute Rule: Before starting work when you get to the work site look around the area to identify any potential hazards AND take action to mitigate them. Inspect the equipment, see what other people in the area are doing, see if everything at the site is what was expected. Talk about it out loud with everyone involved.
Stop When Uncertain: This to me is the number one rule to keep out of trouble. If you aren’t 100% sure about the action you are taking, STOP and get clarification.
Don’t rationalize: People, whether as individuals or in a group have a tendency to rationalize problems away. When you find yourself making excuses and rationalizing potentially unsafe conditions or unknown steps, stop.
The safety pyramid is a theory that several lower level incidents lead to higher incidents. If we make a concerted effort to reduce at risk behaviors, then minor injuries will be prevented and it will be substantially less likely to have severe injuries or fatalities. I personally didn’t believe in the safety pyramid for the first couple years I worked in an industrial environment. One day our safety rep stopped by at the morning meeting and went over the current stats for the site. He said something along the lines of “If we don’t slow down, we’re going to kill someone here.” 9 hours later a co-worker of mine sustained severe life altering injuries as the result of a falling object. She was standing only a couple feet from me. For every time someone cuts off a finger, there were several “close calls”.
Throughout the last decade amazing advances in prosthetics have greatly increased the standard of living for amputees, but many of these advances are still incredibly expensive. Recently a double shoulder amputee was fitted with special prosthetic arms. He has full movement, but can only move one joint at a time. Advanced finger prosthetics can cost several thousand dollars per finger. This is a ton of money, but the bigger picture is the lost income.
There have been several DIY finger replacements that I find fascinating. One man makes them out of bicycle parts. Howard Kamarata lost three fingers and using an end user 3D printer produced a device to replace the function of his three fingers for about $100 in materials. While these devices may not look like natural hands, they are functional and that is what matters the most.
No matter how good a replacement finger or hand can be made, nothing is like the real thing. It is important to be cognizant of how fragile our bodies are, and to consciously know how much a hand injury will affect our lives, our earning potential and our finances. Don’t take risks to save a few minutes, because no matter how many times you have done the same thing, it only takes once to change your life.