"It's hard to peel a banana without your thumb. It's hard to button your shirt without the use of your thumb."

What seems obvious isn't always obvious to employees, says John Bell, EHS operations leader for FMC's Health & Nutrition Business. The employees in his division make up about 20 percent of the 6,000 FMC employees around the world. FMC manufactures a wide variety of products, ranging from herbicides and fungicides to health and nutrition products to the lithium used in the manufacture of ceramics and rubber, pharmaceuticals and batteries.

Starting three or four years ago, safety leaders at the company recognized that there was an uptick in hand injuries. There was one serious hand injury in particular, says Bell, that caught management's attention. One worker lost part of his finger when it got caught in a rotary valve he was able to access through a hatch.

The business implemented what Bell calls a "mandatory corrective action plan," searching out the hundreds of similar openings throughout the business and removing or sealing them. Now to open them, employees need special tools.

"A significant  number of hand injuries have been eliminated by that one action," says Bell.

Michelle L. Brown, CSP, FMC corporate process safety manager, admits the company has many diverse businesses with a lot of challenges when it comes to hand injuries. When the uptick in hand injuries was noted, a "Th!nk Safe" campaign was initiated that included a mandatory glove use standard for all locations.

"Our activities include: Implement a global glove standard; developing and launching several videos around hand safety; and analyzing our event data  to drive targeted campaigns to address hand safety issues," says Brown.

Videos, many of them funny or featuring children's perspectives on hand safety, helped educate workers and bring home the importance of protecting their hands not only for themselves, but for all the activities they enjoy with their families.

Employees, as part of their education about hand protection, were told to "find hazards with their minds, not their hands," says Bell. They are expected to conduct job safety analysis and risk assessments to determine the hazards before work starts, so that proper safety measures – such as the appropriate hand protection and safety knives – are in place before they begin a task. As a result, the total recordable injury rate (TRIR) (all company sites – even those outside of the United States – report injuries based on OSHA standards) has dropped to .22 from .5 – .7.

The company offers what Bell calls "an unrestricted supply of gloves," adding, "We don't scrimp and save on hand protection. We want workers to wear gloves."

Off to a Good Start

Monte Mahin, CSP, director of safety and health at National Gypsum Co., started noticing a trend in 2015: "We were having a lot of hand injuries, a lot of cuts," he says. "We provided minimal hand protection along with safety knives, but hadn't given good guidance about what gloves to wear or made the use of safety knives and gloves mandatory."

Many of the injuries the company's 1,900 workers experienced were what Mahin calls "unexpected injuries." They weren't occurring during the course of the injured employee's regular work; rather, they were the result of employees doing activities outside of their normal scope of work. Nearly half of the company's recordable injuries – 40 to 45 percent – were hand injuries.

The company started a campaign in October to reduce hand injuries. Glove use was made mandatory for almost all work, including shoveling, sweeping, the use of any tool and when picking up products or equipment with the hands. While there are exceptions to the policy – if the glove itself could cause a hazard or for some job tasks that require very fine motor skills – employees must perform a hazard assessment indicating the task safely can be performed without gloves.

A hand safety and glove usage policy was developed, and a "glove team" was created that included plant managers and plant safety managers to ensure their input and to answer any questions they might have, since they would be reviewing the policy with their staffs and reporting back with any challenges in introducing it to workers. The policy includes the different gloves types for various business units and recommends a general purpose, maintenance, chemical, electrical and cut-resistant options, along with descriptions and photos of the types of gloves.

The workers embraced the program and the company invested in better gloves, two things that Mahin says led to a steep drop in hand injuries.

"The gloves cost a lot more money," Mahin admits. "But that's only on the front end; we have much lower costs on the back end. For me, we have to do what's necessary to keep our employees safe. It's about training, raising the level of awareness and preventing pain and suffering. We haven't had any cuts, abrasions or burns since the start of the year. It's hard to argue that the hand safety and glove usage policy is not necessary when we have data like that to back it up."