Hand-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are painful, sometimes crippling, injuries that generally affect nerves, tendons, tendon sheaths, and muscles in the hands, fingers, and wrists. A worker with a severe hand-related MSD might require surgery, be out of work for weeks, and have to remain on restricted duty for a while after returning to work. All of that can add up to a lot of pain and suffering for the worker and lost productivity and increased costs for your organization.
Hand-related injuries develop from frequent repetitive motions on a machine or keyboard, packing, cutting, etc.; forceful exertion; or from the use of vibrating or impact tools. Carpal tunnel syndrome, for example, is a common MSD that occurs when the nerve that runs through the wrist’s carpal tunnel is pinched. Initial symptoms are numbness, tingling, and weakness. Carpal tunnel syndrome can reduce strength and mobility in wrist and hands and may cause permanent damage.
The best way to handle hand-related MSDs is to prevent them. It’s essential for employees to choose the right tool for the job to reduce strain and awkward positions. To prevent injury when using tools, employees should:
- Grip tools so the thumb and index finger overlap slightly
- Avoid bending wrists while holding tools
- Use clamps, jigs, etc., to help avoid awkward positions and bent wrists
- Carry materials using a palm-down grip
- Reduce vibration-related injuries by operating tools at the lowest efficient speed possible
- Hold tools as loosely as possible without losing grip
- Use mechanical aids, not hands, to grasp and hold materials while working on them
- Keep hands warm. Cold hands make workers grip tools and materials too tightly. When their hands are cold, workers are also more likely to develop problems from vibration.
Whatever their job, make sure that your workers:
- Avoid repetitive movements whenever possible
- Alternate tasks to reduce time spent performing tasks that put a lot of stress on hands
- Take frequent mini-breaks to relax tense muscles and give hands a rest.
Finally, encourage employees to report MSDs affecting the hands, fingers, and wrists immediately. Symptoms include pain or aching; numbness, tingling, and stiffness; a burning sensation; swelling; and weakness.