What Should Workers Know about Hand Injuries?August 3, 2021
The hand is among the most complex parts of the human body. The fascinating movement of tendons, bones, soft tissue, and nerves give humans the power to perform a multitude of tasks from grasping an object to opening a door and tying a shoe.
For most workers, hands are essential to perform their job. But unfortunately, unsafe machinery, poor training, and lack of safety equipment all lead to thousands of hand injuries annually. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded more than 137,000 hand injuries in workplaces across the United States in a single year.
Beyond the obvious pain and impairment, these injuries cost millions in medical bills and productivity. Thankfully, workers in Maryland are protected by the state’s Workers’ Compensation program.
Types of Hand Injuries
Injuries to the hand can be classified in four general categories:
- Burns and chemical-related injuries
- Power tool and machine accidents
- Cuts and lacerations
- Musculoskeletal conditions
Hand injuries happen largely as a result of a disregard for safety protocols, distractions at work, and simple carelessness.
A Serious Hand Injury can be Life-Changing
These injuries are especially devastating because the complex anatomy of the hand makes it hard to repair after an injury. Even if the hand can be saved, it may not function as it once did. Many people with a severe hand injury lose some percentage of grip, motion, or dexterity. They may find it difficult to complete the simplest of tasks even after surgery and rehabilitative therapy.
Machine Accidents and Hand Injuries
Machine accidents are perhaps the most serious of all that can affect the hands. With so many moving parts, a worker whose hand gets caught or stuck in a moving machine risks severe hand trauma or even amputation. A hand that is crushed by a heavy or fast-moving object may never resume full functionality.
Signs of a Hand Injury
Unlike other types of injuries that may not be readily apparent, an injury to the hand is fairly easy to see. Common symptoms may include:
- Amputation of the fingers or hand
- Exposed tendon or bone
- Open wound
- Significant bleeding
- Skin loss
- Torn skin
Diagnosing Hand Trauma
The first priority is to stop blood loss. In the ambulance or emergency room, staff may start an IV to administer fluids and pain medication. After an initial assessment of the hand, the doctor will test the nerves and tendons. Imaging tests including an X-ray and an MRI can provide more information about the extent of damage to the different parts of the hand. Hospital staff may call in a hand specialist as well.
Treatment of Hand Injuries
Treatment of machinery accidents and other types of hand injuries depends on the parts affected and the severity of the condition.
It can involve one or more of the following:
- Medication: Including antibiotics to prevent infection, pain medication to reduce discomfort, and anesthesia to block pain during a medical procedure
- Tetanus shot: To prevent tetanus infection caused by bacteria transferred from metal equipment and other objects
- Wound irrigation: Flushing the affected area with water to remove debris and objects, and to prevent infection
- Surgery: To repair damaged parts of the hand on an emergency basis, or scheduled for the future for less severe injuries
- Rehabilitation: Physical and occupational therapy to regain movement and learn new ways of doing tasks when hand mobility cannot be fully restored
Methods to Prevent Workplace Hand Injuries
It is clear that any type of hand injury can have a serious impact on a person’s ability to do their day-to-day activities, including job tasks. Also, hand injuries often require ongoing and expensive medical care and rehabilitative therapy.
Prevention is the key to avoiding painful, life-changing injuries to the hands. Here are just some of the many steps employers and employees can take to prevent hand injuries at work:
- Always engage metal guards and safety control for machinery. Shortcuts to save time and money are unacceptable in this regard.
- Before operating any type of machinery, assess the equipment to ensure guards are in place, and remove unnecessary objects, tools, and materials from the work area.
- Never put fingers or hands near the moving parts of any type of machine.
- Workers should secure clothing, jewelry, hair, and other loose items before using machinery.
- Wear the proper safety equipment when using machinery. There are many different safety gloves available. When in doubt, refer to the safety data sheet to find the right one for the job at hand.
- Proper posture and hand and wrist position are important for workers who use hand tools or perform repetitive tasks. Reduce stress on tendons and nerves with custom fitted personal protective equipment.
- Use proper precautions when working with toxic chemicals and hot objects to avoid burns and other injuries.
- When using cutting tools, never cut toward the body, keep blades sharp, and ensure the blade is secure and locked in place before starting.
What Workers Should Do after a Hand Injury
Get immediate medical help: After any type of hand injury at work, the first priority should always be getting immediate medical attention.
Report the accident to the employer: From there, report a work injury to a superior as soon as possible. This should always be done in writing, and the injured worker should keep copies for their records. This is critical in case the employer denies knowing about the accident.
Contact a Workers’ Compensation lawyer: Next, it is a good time to consult an experienced Workers’ Compensation lawyer to discuss one’s rights and responsibilities after a work injury. With the guidance of a trusted lawyer, one can avoid common errors that can delay a claim for compensation.
File a Workers’ Compensation claim: The Workers’ Compensation lawyer oversees the claim and makes sure it is accurate, complete, and submitted to the appropriate agency. For example, in Maryland, claimants can either file online at the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission (WCC) website or request paper forms from the agency via email at: [email protected].
What Workers’ Compensation Benefits Cover
Workers’ Compensation benefits cover various medical services including treatment and surgery, hospitalization, medications, prosthetics, and other medical equipment. Beyond those costs, Workers’ Compensation also provides benefits for a portion of income lost when a person’s injury keeps them from working.
That amount depends on the extent of disability and when and if the individual is able to work in any capacity. Someone who loses one or both hands is considered permanently and totally disabled and is entitled to two-thirds of their average weekly pay.
What Happens if My Claim Was Denied, but I Cannot Work?
When a Workers’ Compensation claim is denied, the claimant receives a document called a Notice of Dispute. If that happens, or if the injured worker does not receive all of the benefits for which they believe they are entitled, they can request a hearing before the Workers’ Compensation Commission. To do that, the worker will submit an Issues Form to the commission along with a copy sent to the employer or their insurance company.
At the hearing, the Commissioner listens to both sides of the case to make a determination about benefits. If the ruling does not go in the worker’s favor, they can request a rehearing within 15 days of the Commissioner’s decision.
The lawyer handling the claim helps their client determine if it makes sense to accept the decision, take the next step in the Workers’ Compensation process, or consider litigation against an employer who intentionally and willfully caused them harm.
Moving Forward after a Devastating Hand Injury
Employers have a duty to provide training, equipment, and procedures to keep every work area safe and avoid catastrophic hand injuries. But the reality is, thousands of workers suffer burns, lacerations, broken bones, and amputations of the hands every year in the United States.
Care for these complex injuries is emotionally, physically, and financially taxing. To alleviate some of that burden, employees should enlist the expertise of a proven Workers’ Compensation lawyer to help navigate the claim process and advocate on their behalf if their claim is denied.
Baltimore Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Fight for Clients Injured at Work
If you or a loved one was injured on the job, the Baltimore Workers’ Compensation lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton can help. We have the knowledge and skill for building a compelling case. Our dedicated legal team will walk you through the claims process and ensure that you receive the financial benefits you deserve. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 844-556-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.
Located in Baltimore, we serve clients throughout Maryland.