Hand Safety: When OSHA Lends a Helping Hand

In the never-ending quest to eliminate hand injuries and minimize hand hazards, some companies turn to OSHA (or their state OSHA) for help.

The agency’s various cooperative programs have produced a number of success stories, a few of which are highlighted below.

Croton-Harmon Maintenance Complex

An OSHA strategic partnership had a big impact on hand safety at a recently completed construction project in New York.

The build-out of a new maintenance complex at the Croton-Harmon rail station in Croton on Hudson, N.Y., was no small undertaking. The project included the design and construction of two large maintenance shops-one for coaches and multiple-unit rail cars and one for locomotives-as well as a new locomotive-wash facility, 15 new tracks and other upgrades to the site.

The contractor—Skanska USA Civil Northeast and ECCO III Joint Venture—entered into an OSHA strategic partnership during the construction project.

Two years after the partnership was launched, OSHA reported that a mandatory glove policy on the site reduced hand injuries among the project’s 300 employees by nearly 50 percent.

The partnership-which emphasized safety training and safe practices such as daily stretching-also helped the project achieve a days-away-from-work rate that was 90 percent lower than the national average for heavy construction, according to OSHA.

Apex Engineering LLC

Wichita, Kan.-based Apex Engineering International LLC has leveraged OSHA’s on-site consultation services to make dramatic improvements in hand safety and in its overall safety culture.

After forming in 2003 to purchase the assets of a failing aircraft-parts manufacturer, the company’s new CEO discovered a safety culture in shambles. There had been three major accidents over the past three years that resulted in the loss of fingers and hands, according to OSHA, and major injuries-such as the loss of an eye, hand or finger-were occurring every 18 months.

An examination of its safety records revealed that most injuries involved material handling, and 42 percent of all accidents involved new employees.

The company took massive action, hiring a safety director and creating a multi-functional safety board.

With the help of OSHA’s free consultation services provided by the Kansas Department of Labor, the company developed a safety orientation program and a safety handbook, and devised a buddy program in which seasoned employees teach new hires how to perform all job tasks safely.

Apex Engineering’s efforts have paid off handsomely, both in terms of its accident and injury rates as well as in its reputation.

In 2008, after a rigorous audit by the state, Apex Engineering achieved OSHA SHARP (Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program) status, which is the agency’s highest safety designation for small businesses.

About a year after that, the company celebrated four years without a lost-workday injury—along with the accompanying reduction in workers’ compensation costs and increases in productivity and worker morale.

In January 2012, the company celebrated 2 million continuous work hours without a lost-workday injury. When the company highlighted the achievement, COO Craig Befort noted that such an achievement is rare, especially in aircraft manufacturing.

“We deal every day with heavy machinery, chemicals and thin-sheet metal that is extremely sharp.” Befort said in 2012. “Someone not paying attention risks serious injury, but because the employees are so involved and have ownership in our safety program, they are keenly aware and constantly looking out for one another.”

Almaco

With help from Iowa OSHA, Almaco has made dramatic strides in its safety efforts, and the manufacturer of agricultural-research equipment is reaping the financial and operational benefits.

In 2001, Almaco’s injury and illness rate was over three times higher than the national average for its industry. By 2010—about a decade after reaching out to Iowa safety and health officials—the Nevada, Iowa-based company had lowered its incident rate to less than half the national average for its industry.

Coinciding with the steep drop-off in accidents and injuries, Almaco’s workers’ compensation premiums have dropped significantly and its employee-turnover rate has plummeted, according to the company.

Almaco, which achieved SHARP status in July 2010, worked with state consultants to address numerous hazards that the consultants identified in their initial visit to the company.

“Almaco started with correcting the serious hazards identified by Iowa Consultation, such as fall hazards, unprotected machinery and electrical hazards,” the company explained.

“The company reduced fall hazards by purchasing better equipment and installing railings; increased the mandatory use of personal protective equipment; and initiated efforts to improve the enforcement of all of their safety policies.”

Among measures to improve hand safety, Almaco:

  • Made design modifications to its products to enable a safer assembly process.
  • Reduced the amount of hand grinding by purchasing automated equipment.
  • Nearly eliminated utility knives by finding safer tools or changing processes.

Meanwhile, the company has improved ergonomics—and reduced sprains and strains—by purchasing lifting equipment, and has improved overall safety and housekeeping by adopting a 5S philosophy, which focuses on having visual order, organization, cleanliness and standardization.

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