Rethinking Hand Safety - Joe Geng


Available for Kindle and in print.




Copyright © 2019 Joe Geng All rights reserved.

Rethinking Hand Safety Myths, Truths, and Proven Practices

ISBN 978-1-5445-0625-8 Paperback 978-1-5445-0626-5 Ebook

To my dad, Frank Geng, whose life’s work and passion was protecting workers’ hands.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS........................................................... 9 INTRODUCTION: THE THREE KINDS OF COMPANIES.....11 1. WHY BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD HANDS......... 25 2. THE TOP TEN HAND SAFETY MISTAKES.................... 45 3. THE PSYCHOLOGY OF HAND SAFETY........................ 73 4. HOW TO TURN AROUND A COMPANY CULTURE.....121 5. THE INFRASTRUCTURE OF HAND SAFETY..............167 6. FOR WANT OF A (PROPER) GLOVE...........................189 7. IN SEARCH OF THE GENUINE HAZARD ASSESSMENT.................................................................. 217 8. RETHINKING TRAINING............................................... 237 9. GOOD METRICS AND USELESS METRICS................ 277 CONCLUSION: IN THE END, IT’S ALL PERSONAL. ....... 295 APPENDICES AND SUPPORTING WEBSITE...................303 NOTES...................................................................................309


This book could not have been created without much research and input from people throughout the safety industry, and I have many to thank. Let me start with the dedicated employees at Superior Glove, who have given me such support throughout this project and who work every day to make people safer. I drew invaluable advice from specific interviews conducted with a large number of true experts. Let me thank them for their ready cooperation and wisdom: Marissa Afton, Syed Ahmed, Ken Ashfield, Louis Bevoc, Jennifer Boychuk, Jean Casey, Samuel Cunard, Ray Dibello, Dan Duffey, Derek Eversdyke, Chris Garrels, Maria Gonzalez, Matthew Hallowell, Jamie Hermann, Michael Johannesson, Thomas Krause, Danielle Kretschmer, Angela Lambert, Lorell Leitze,Timothy Ludwig, Simon MacInnis, Dennis Mehas, John Morawetz, Mary Sue Mumma, Steve Patterson, Charles Piper, Justin Raymond, Steve Roberts, Justin Tripp, and Chris Urbach.

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Let me give special thanks to my very dedicated and talented book team, which included editor, Marc Porter Zasada, and publishing manager, Ellie Cole. Untiring consultants Delaney King, Lori Fleming, and Nedra Weinreich put in many hours of solid thinking and research. Research assistance was also provided by the very able Kristen Lightner and Chandra Lye. John Galvin and Caroline Bermudez did a fabulous job con- ducting interviews. Finally, let me thank my wonderful wife, Julie, children Sebas- tian, Xavier, and Alexander for their endless patience and faith in me and support for my work.

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Usually, it’s obvious. When I walk onto a shop floor, I almost always know if I’m visiting the best kind of company, the worst kind of company, or a company struggling to get things right. In my world, only those three kinds of companies exist. It doesn’t matter if they’re doing auto assembly, running canning lines, making jet engine parts, refining oil, or cutting sheet metal. I visit these companies because it’s my job to help them decide what kind of work gloves to buy—a vital, often difficult decision that will directly affect the safety of everyone on the shop floor. A decision that can save fingers. Hands. Livelihoods. Even lives. If I’m visiting the best kind of company, the shop’s well-lit. You could eat your dinner off the floor.The equipment’s spotless and clearly maintained. I feel a sense of order, and I see a labeled

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place for everything.Whiteboards with production goals hang next to bright, detailed safety signs in multiple languages.The PPE (personal protective equipment) is obviously fresh, up to date, and worn by everyone. In the best kind of companies, the workers themselves look relaxed and generally happy. They come up to chat, eager to engage and answer my questions . In the best kind of companies, the workers realize I’m there because management actually cares about their safety.That gives us an immediate bond. I can ask, “Is this glove working for you?” and I’ll get a straight answer, like, “Hey, this glove has no grip, so I never use it, even though I know I’m supposed to.” Then we figure out a solution. Together. LIKE WALKING INTO A DIVE BAR The worst kind of company will try to prevent me from touring the shop floor at all. They don’t want prying eyes. They don’t want advice on the best glove for a particular job. They just want to talk price. If I do manage to get down to the floor, I feel like an unwelcome stranger entering a dive bar. It’s dimly lit. Tools are scattered. Metal shavings litter the floor. I’ll see lubricating oil pooling under grimy machinery. Workers will avoid my eye, and I can see they’re asking, “Is this some new management guy sent to give us trouble?” These workers aren’t just suspicious, they’re visibly grim. Unhappy. Resigned.

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If the workers in the worst kind of company even use their PPE, it’s cheap, filthy, and out of date. Gloves are old and randomly chosen, with the same worn, greasy leather used for handing sharp metal, pouring corrosive chemicals, or running saws.The company probably has an official policy for wearing protection, but it’s hardly enforced or encouraged—so I’ll see people reluc- tantly pulling on their protection as I enter and radioing ahead to others. I can see them thinking, “Oh, it’s some kind of BS safety inspection, so we’d better make a show of it.” At the worst kind of companies, safety signs are nonexistent or vague.They say things like “Use Caution!” but everywhere I look, I see little evidence of caution. Everywhere I look at the worst companies, I see tragedy close at hand. TRYING TO GET IT RIGHT The third kind of company is harder to spot, but maybe it’s the kind of company most likely to use this book. That’s the kind of company struggling to get it right.The kind of company that cares, but doesn’t know how to move forward. That wants to develop a genuine culture of safety, but doesn’t see how to make it happen. I’m thinking of an automotive parts plant where a manager takes me down to the shop floor to show me workers cutting metal parts. They have gloves with good cut protection, but they’re using a cutting fluid that penetrates the gloves over time. Because the gloves are clumsy, they often take them off to handle small parts—despite signs saying “Always wear your

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gloves.”Long-term exposure to cutting fluids can cause serious health issues, and the manager’s genuinely worried about his workers. He says to me, “This has been going on for twenty years, but I don’t know how to fix it.” I’m thinking of a construction company that sends out hun- dreds of workers to multiple building sites. Some workers get a safety talk before they start, and some don’t. Some bring their own gloves, and some get cheap gloves issued to them on an “as needed” basis. Plenty think they’re too tough or experienced to follow formal safety procedures.The newbies, wanting to fit in, usually follow their lead. The company employs a full-time safety manager, but he says to me, “I really have no idea how to reach these guys.” At this third kind of company, you find good practices here and there, but not everywhere. You find supervisors who give a safety talk to their teams every morning and supervisors who have never given a safety talk in their lives. You find dangerous equipment tagged and locked out when not being used along- side dangerous equipment left unlocked and unattended while the operator grabs lunch.There’s no overall program that drives safety all the way through the organization.There’s no system- atic hazard assessment.There’s no measurement of results. At the best kind of company, I’m there because management has asked, “How can we do this better?” At the worst kind of company, I’m there because they asked, “How can we do this cheaper?”

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At the third kind of company, management honestly wants to know, “How can we get some kind of control over this situation?” I’m writing this book to make a difference at all three kinds of companies. Because at all three, regardless of the attitudes of man- agement, hands matter. Because every day, every hour, someone trying to earn a living injures a hand—bones crushed, fingers lost, skin burned, or a whole hand dismembered in a way that could have been prevented. HOW THIS BOOK CAME ABOUT As of this writing, my family’s company has been making work gloves for 109 years. 1 We sell to automakers like Honda,Toyota, and General Motors. We supply oil and gas companies like Shell Oil, Nabors Drilling, and Jacobs Engineering.We create gloves for huge construction companies like Bechtel, innovative aerospace companies like Bombardier and SpaceX, and major food processors like Tyson Foods. All around the globe, our representatives, R&D teams, and hand-safety consultants spend their careers looking for ways to make hands safer.They attend conferences. Hunt down new materials. Dig into statistics.Walk every kind of shop floor. As a result, we make—no kidding—over 1,000 different kinds of gloves in over 5,000 SKUs. This book arises out of the passion and experience of everyone on our team; the lessons we’ve learned from the best compa- nies; the advice we’ve sought from acclaimed safety experts and behavioral psychologists; reviews of the best academic studies; interviews with our most knowledgeable clients; and extensive talks with workers, supervisors, and independent safety trainers.

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In this book,we’ll get way beyond “What gloves should I buy?”to “What causes someone to act safely or not act safely?”We’ll dis- cuss cognitive biases and illegitimate statistics.We’ll talk about managing up and managing down. Infrastructure dos and don’ts. But overall this book will be driven by one simple question: What actually works? Not what might work. Not what should work. Not what people think works. But what strategies, policies, processes, attitudes, training, and decisions actually work to reduce or eliminate hand injuries to workers out there in the real world:The people feed- ing stampers. Running lathes. Holding jackhammers.Welding beams. Handling acids. Working pile drivers. The people whose hands represent their livelihood. And build our world. MIND-FOCUSING STATS It may shock you to learn that in the United States, workplace injuries cost more than all cancers combined—an estimated $250 billion annually.The hand is the most commonly injured part of the upper body, 2 with about 170,000 reported indus- trial hand injuries a year. 3 Each injury costs companies around US $10,200 in worker’s comp, 4 along with five days’ lost work, OSHA reports, and so on. You do the math. 5 Overall, OSHA estimates a four to six dollar return for every dollar invested in safety—when that investment is actually made. 6 7 Those numbers, of course, represent only the costs to companies

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and insurance funds.They don’t account for the people who can no longer work after losing a hand. Or who develop lifelong disabilities from absorbing chemicals into their skin, or who can’t button up their own shirt after losing some fingers. In 2015, at one of America’s largest poultry processors, they reported seventeen hand amputations. 8 That’s more than one a month. That’s seventeen real people who were crippled for life, in one year alone. As in, they lost a hand. WHO SHOULD READ THIS BOOK Mostly this book is for safety managers—at companies of any size, from a small machine shop in a small town up to a GM plant in Michigan or an oil rig out in the North Sea. It’s for safety managers who don’t want to read through a hun- dred academic studies, but still want to get to zero injuries—or who have already read a bunch of studies, but don’t believe there is such a thing as zero injuries. It’s for safety managers who may have been trained for the job—or who may have been thrown into their role because no one else raised their hand at a meeting or seemed willing to develop a plan. But truly, this book is for any kind of manager who cares and finds themselves responsible for workers in manufacturing, construction, mining, food processing, healthcare, oil and gas, road maintenance, utility maintenance, transportation, or any other dangerous environment . It’s for any manager who has seen previous safety initiatives fail.

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Any manager who wants to see how others fixed their failures. Any member of a safety committee who really wants to move the ball forward. Any middle manager who wants to change the attitude of upper management. Any CEO who wants to change the attitude of their board, their colleagues, their middle managers, and their work teams. In fact, this book is for anyone who wants to stand up and say, “Hey, we don’t have to take cuts, crushes, lacerations, and burns for granted. It’s not ‘just part of the job.’ It’s not ‘just part of life in this company.’ We don’t have to accept any ‘natural rate of injury.’ People are being hurt who don’t need to be hurt, because yes, something can be done. Plenty of companies have figured out how to reduce or eliminate these kinds of injuries. Let’s see how they did it, then let’s make this place better.” GETTING BEYOND FRUSTRATION Of course, maybe you’ve made that speech in the past, and you think you tried your damnedest, and your hand injury rate still didn’t go down. Or you couldn’t get funding. Or no one seemed to listen. Maybe you’re at the point where you’re thinking, “I just can’t help these guys.” Well, a major goal of this book is to get you past the natural frustration of being a safety manager. I want to do that by help- ing you understand the underlying psychology and culture of safety.That means I won’t shy away from questions like:

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“Why don’t people follow the rules?” “Why didn’t he see the sign right next to the damn machine?” “Why don’t these guys put the guards down on the blade before they run lumber through it? Isn’t that, like, obvious?” “Why would anyone not wear gloves when they’re handing sheet metal? Are they idiots?” “How can I change people?” “How can I change a whole company of people?” “How can I get serious money for training?” “How can I make the CEO care?” That means diving into the psychology of both workers and managers. It means getting beyond “common sense” to see the cognitive blocks that prevent safety at all levels of an organization. In fact, a whole chapter is devoted to the mysterious psychology of safety. DOING IT RIGHT, AGAIN AND AGAIN One theme that runs through this book ain’t sexy, but it’s fun- damental. So I might as well get it right out on the table. That theme is consistency.

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As I talked to folks across industries, and even within industries, I discovered that safety practices were anything but consistent. At one metal-handling facility they do it this way. At the facility next door they do it that way. This machine has all kinds of safety guards, and the next machine’s got bare flying gears. One supervisor makes everyone wear gloves and the other supervisor thinks gloves are annoying. Somebody orders great new gloves, and six months later somebody else goes back to ordering the old cheap, crappy kind. Don’t tell me that government regulations create consistency, because they can’t and they don’t. Government regulations are only table stakes; it’s how you play the game that matters. Only the people onsite who care—and care for years and years—can create the standards and culture that lead to real safety. CONSISTENT INCONSISTENCIES Training is probably the least consistent factor of all. One VP starts a big safety training initiative and the next VP drops it. Jim does the training this way and Jane does it that way. Carl has never done safety training, but he gets the assignment because he knows how to do the work. Unfortunately, Carl can’t really understand why anyone would get hurt doing what he does, as long as they’re not outright idiots. Pete is tasked with training, but Pete doesn’t really believe that you can train people to be safe, at all: “Hey, if their mommas didn’t teach them to be safe, there’s nothing I can do for them now.” As a result, one new hire gets a whole lot of random Power- Point shows, and the next gets nothing but a good luck pat on the back.

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There’s a reason the training chapter takes up a good chunk of this book. Plenty of hand-safety training doesn’t work. We’ll dig into the reasons and the ways of doing it right.

The Wheels Then there’s the problem of reinventing the wheel.

Tragically, lessons learned within industries are often not passed around. As a result, even safety managers who become pas- sionate about their jobs often must reinvent the wheel when it comes to training and organizational engagement—despite the tried-and-true blueprints out there, maybe at a competitor, or maybe at another plant owned by the same company, just waiting to be tapped. The Fires Then there’s the problem of putting out fires instead of looking at the big picture. Even safety managers who wake up at 3 a.m. worrying about the hands of their workers often find themselves focused only on the latest disaster—say, those dangerous gears that grabbed somebody’s finger last week—without ever stepping back to look at all the potential hazards in the workplace, then devel- oping a repeatable approach to solving them. THE LONG-TERM STUFF To get at these problems, this book will look at much more than the mechanics of hand safety.We’ll look at how to create organization-wide hand-safety processes, organization-wide

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safety cultures, and how to involve actual workers in actual safety planning. Sexy or not, we’ll look at how to create consistency. That means chapters on hazard assessments, on keeping stats, and on creat- ing a meaningful company culture around safety. All developed with experts who have been there. In other words: not just easy short-term tactics, but hard, long- term strategies. Proven strategies. HOW THIS BOOK WILL CHANGE YOU Ultimately, I want this book to change you. I want it to change the way you approach safety—especially hand safety, but all safety. I want it to give you confidence that you completely “get it” and then to rethink the whole topic at your company. Toward that end, this book tries to offer you all the key tools in a small volume. It’s intended to arm you with the critical data, the essential psychological facts, case studies, and proven meth- odologies to make a real difference in the lives of your workers. When you’re done working through this book, you should immediately see how to greatly improve hand safety in your workplace, regardless of your industry, and regardless of your previous knowledge. You should then be capable of creating your own realistic, go-forward plan. A plan that avoids the common pitfalls of the numberless safety programs that cost time and money and

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energy but failed to make real progress. On this book’s support- ing website at, you will find a checklist which can help. WHAT’S NOT IN THIS BOOK That said, you’re not holding an encyclopedia. Here’s some stuff that’s beyond our scope here: • You will not find first-aid instructions, or specific post-injury reporting standards within these pages, as those topics are well covered elsewhere and may be highly specific to your industry. • You will not find much discussion of government regula- tions or government reporting requirements—again, just table stakes, particular to your industry, and well covered elsewhere. I talk a lot about how to train for hand safety, but I do not present an actual hand-safety training curriculum. Curricula should also be highly customized, but I’ll point you to resources you can download. In fact, on the website at, you will find lots of linked resources, including hazard assessment forms, curriculums, and glove-selection information.

TWO INSPIRATIONS I also hope this book will inspire you.

If you have picked up this little tome and read this far, it means you have the chance to do a great deal of good in the world.

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You have the chance to save the hand of a human being, along with their livelihood, and possibly their life. Indeed, since you have the chance to prevent disasters before they occur, your opportunity for good is greater than that given to the most skilled surgeon or altruistic charity. Throughout the book, I will be quoting two men who have inspired me over the years. The first is Paul O’Neill, former CEO of Alcoa, who completely revolutionized safety across his global organization—and made Alcoa far more successful at the same time. On his very first investor call, O’Neill shocked the financial world and briefly tanked his stock by saying, “If you want to see how I’m doing, look at my safety record.” Not his profitability, not his sales, but his safety record. “Don’t budget safety,” said O’Neill to his managers, “Just do it.” At first they thought he was nuts. Then they saw he was right. I’ll tell you the whole story later. The second is David White, Senior VP of the global supply chain at Campbell’s Soup for ten years, who reduced lost-time injuries by 90 percent and changed the way his entire industry thought about safety. Whether you work at the best kind of company, the worst kind of company, or a company struggling to do better—let’s learn from White and O’Neill and the many others who will lead our way. Together, let’s save some hands.

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Robotics engineers dream great dreams of duplicating the hand, but still can’t design one that delicately picks a strawberry like the lowest-paid field worker. No other part of the body has the hand’s dexterity. Its sensitivity. Its muscle intelligence. We eat with our hands, dress with our hands, touch our lovers with our hands. Built with no less than twenty-seven separate bones connected by a complex network of tendons, ligaments, and muscles, this perfectly evolved machine offers a range of motion utterly unique in its beauty and capability. The human hand is not a minor miracle, it’s a major miracle.

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Strangely, however, hand injuries are often taken for granted. I see it all the time… The boss of an oil rig in California says to one of my territory managers, “These are tough guys out here. They don’t care if their hands get bruised, and we only break a few fingers a year. It’s not a huge deal. We just fix them up and actually they go back out and start working again with their broken finger.” It’s clear that the rig boss keeps no records on mere hand injuries. Performs no follow-up to see if the worker lost range of motion, or the broken fingers mended crooked. For sure, he’s not willing to upgrade to more expensive gloves. A week later, we learn that a worker on the same rig had a finger cut off while wearing fifty-cent nitrile gloves that offered no real protection. We’re visiting a sheet metal manufacturer where workers handle sharp edges all day long. In the shop, we see that the old guys aren’t using any gloves at all. We actually see one worker in his mid-fifties get cut on a big piece of metal. When we ask why he’s not wearing gloves, he replies, “I don’t need that kind of stuff. When I get cut, I just use some crazy glue and gaffer tape.” He holds up his hands, which are completely covered

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in scars, callouses, and some burns. Nearby there’s a younger worker, and we can see him thinking, “If I ask for gloves, my boss will think I’m a sissy.” IT SUCKS TO “JUST LOSE A FINGER OR TWO” Anything as complex as the hand is also extremely difficult to repair. Even if you “just lose a finger or two.”Never mind having your whole hand crushed. Crazy glue and gaffer tape rarely solve the problem. If a great violinist injures a hand, we all know it’s a tragedy. But few people seem to realize how a hand injury can deeply impact anyone’s life: prevent them from brushing their teeth, picking a flower, preparing food, handling a fishing pole, changing a baby. In our training sessions we sometimes tape up one or two fin- gers on a worker’s hand, as if the fingers had been lost—then ask the worker to button their shirt, sign their name, or tie their shoe. Try it.Tape a couple fingers of your good hand together and try to sign a check, eat, or button your shirt. How about playing a guitar? Picking flowers? Holding your child?

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Along with underestimating the true value of fingers and the long-term consequences of hand injuries, most of us underes- timate the time and agony of recovery. Days are missed.Weeks are missed. Recovery may require significant help from loved ones, drugs, lengthy physical therapy, multiple operations. Indeed, surgical repairs to the hand are notoriously difficult, and there’s a high probability that a major injury will affect your dexterity forever. As of this writing, the insurance industry estimates the value of a lost thumb or pointer finger at around $125,000, a whole lost hand at around $250,000; 9 but these are low numbers consider- ing the limitations you would encounter for the rest of your life. All for lack of the right PPE. Or a lack of attention. Or a lack of supervision.

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It’s worth briefly listing some of the major hand injuries that occur in the workplace, just to show what you’re up against.

• Cuts: Human skin is thin, and sharp edges are everywhere. That makes cuts the overwhelming number one on the list of hand injuries. Cuts can be minor or deep, cutting through ligaments, veins, or whole fingers. • Pinch points: Tools and equipment create tight spaces that crush, twist, and tear whole hands. Especially moving machinery. • Lost fingers: Common around rotating equipment and in food processing. • Impacts and crushings: Tools, machinery, or materials smacking down, usually on the top of the hand: a major, if often-overlooked danger to working hands. Especially common in construction, as well as oil and gas work, where people are handling big wrenches, pipes, and equipment. • Abrasions: Even if they don’t catch a finger or a hand, moving parts like gears and lathes can abrade and tear at skin. • Repetitive injuries: Repetitive tasks can cause injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome. • Heat: Welding torches, foundry metals, plastics molding, and the hot moving parts of machines can burn deeply. • Cold can cause frostbite. • Chemicals can burn you immediately or cause serious con- ditions like cancer over long exposure. It’s unbelievable how often workers are given the wrong gloves for the types of chemicals they are handling. This can include lubricating oils and metal-handling fluids of all kinds. • Electricity can kill.

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• Vibration: One common injury often overlooked by safety managers is hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS), a con- dition that affects hands working with pneumatic tools like jackhammers or vibrating machinery-like grinders. HAVS can cause neurological disorders, even vascular and skeletal problems. You get white fingers and you lose feeling. Long-term effects are the most insidious: HAVS, carpal tunnel, and chemical exposures included. In training sessions, we will have workers hold some freshly cut garlic. After a time, they can taste the garlic in their mouths. Skin is porous, we tell them. It absorbs everything. We also remind workers that hand injuries are often caused not by the task actually being done by the worker, but by the carelessness of others: tools left unsheathed, debris scattered in the area, machinery not locked out. THE HUMAN FACTORS Machines, chemicals, and tools are inherently dangerous. But human factors greatly increase the risk. These human factors operate at the level of the worker, the manager, and the orga- nization at large—every level counts. Indeed, it’s rare that an injury is any one single person’s fault. A worker may lose focus on a task, and move a hand too close to a spinning lathe—we’ll devote much discussion to the psy- chology of those moments. But a safety manager may also have failed to do an inspection that would have led to a barrier being placed to prevent that hand from ever moving too close.

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Bad things happen to good hands because a worker has a lapse of attention, but also because the company has no safety manager. Bad things happen to good hands because the company does no forward thinking about conditions and risks. Creates no accountability for injuries. Has no money for proper safety improvements. Succumbs to production pressures that move factory lines at unsafe speeds. Bad things happen to good hands because an unwitting pur- chasing manager buys bulky, uncomfortable PPE that no one wears. Bad things happen to good hands because a supervisor fails to set an example by wearing proper gloves, or setting safety guards on machinery. At some point, either verbally or through their body language, the manager has communicated, “Our protocols are a good idea, but they’re optional.” Bad things happen to good hands because a supervisor thinks, “It’s obvious how to do this safely. Anyone who puts their hand in the damn machine is stupid, and you can’t fix stupid.” Actually, you can fix stupid. It’s called training. Bad things happen to good hands because workers have lost trust and respect for management, do not believe that man- agement cares, and no longer listen when managers set safety policies or run training sessions to improve safety. Bad things happen to good hands because “safety training” con- sists of ten minutes on the worker’s first (or fiftieth!) day, with no follow-up.

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Bad things happen to good hands because safety trainers often have no experience with the actual work being done. It all counts.


It’s worth giving a careful read to this quote from a manager at an oil refinery parts manufacturer. What could have been done to prevent this accident from happening in the first place?

“Recently, one of our welders accidentally touched her hand with her TIG welding rod and burned a hole in her flesh, right

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through two pairs of gloves. She was wearing both leather TIG gloves and Kevlar gloves, but it went right through, and she had to have surgery to remove the cauterized flesh. The rod had just been welding, so it was probably at 1500° Fahrenheit and would have melted through any sort of synthetic product or leather. “We’ve looked at the incident very carefully, and I don’t think anything would have stopped it short of a piece of steel. A chainmail glove perhaps, but that’s counterproductive for a welder, as they deal with electricity and heat all the time, and if you put something on them that’s conductive to electricity and heat, it’s not going to help. There’s not much that would have stopped her getting injured other than not doing it in the first place. “The incident came right at the end of the shift so the welder wasn’t really focused. What she was doing was very repetitive, and she had become a little complacent. She was welding together some small parts that had to be turned over at some point—so rather than put the torch down and turn the part over and pick the torch up again, she just tried to flip it over while still holding the torch. That was very much something that she could have prevented. “After the incident we gave all the welders a holder to put on their workstations. Now, rather than put a torch down on the bench and worry about it sliding off, they put it in this holder so it can’t move.” Do you see? Sure, maybe the welder was tired at the end of the day—but she didn’t put the torch down when she flipped the part over because there was no holder, and she was wor-

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ried about it sliding off the table. Suppose the manager had watched the welders work and had discussed safety ideas with them once a month or even once a quarter to identify issues like this in advance of an incident? Suppose shift rotations had been shortened, as well? NO THINKING-THROUGH OF SAFETY ISSUES The single biggest human error contributing to hand injuries may simply be the tendency of humans to keep doing things the way they’ve been doing them for years, without stepping back to see the options, or reanalyze the work. Or asking how times have changed. For example, a local steel plant has been using the same leather glove for more than forty years. How do I know this? Because my father invented the glove for them around 1963. It was a great glove in its day, but far, far better options now exist— including highly cut-resistant Kevlar models that would be perfect for metalwork. Indeed, we’ve shown these guys dozens of better options, but they refuse to make the switch. Why? It’s the glove they’ve always worn. They’re used to it. It’s like we’re coming in and trying to switch out their brand of beer. Safety takes proactive thought, planning, and engagement.The right solution is not always obvious and it takes an educated awareness of industry-specific issues . Like I said, my company makes over 1,000 kinds of gloves.We

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make all those different kinds because sometimes you need a glove that gives cut protection, and sometimes you need crush protection, and sometimes you need both—and sometimes nei- ther. Duh, right? But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen companies buy cotton gloves for people using saws. Or people using cut-protective gloves to handle sharp metal while ignor- ing the fact that the metal is covered in a dangerous chemical that’s soaking right through the Kevlar. Or people not using their big uncomfortable gloves because they’re all padded up for crush protection, when there’s no real danger of crushing. Poor Accessibility Or never mind all that. How many times have companies bought excellent gloves that just stay in the boxes because nobody enforces usage of the gloves? Or because the gloves are stored somewhere across the plant where they’re hard to find and get at? In manufacturing, construction, oil and gas, utility work—you name it—it takes a whole lot of planning to make sure you have the right thing in the right place at the right time. I remember some construction workers on a highrise telling me how often a worker would get to the top of a building they were working on only to realize they didn’t have their gloves with them. They’d look down, and there’s a big locker full of gloves, way at the bottom of the structure. Do they bother to go back down and up, a journey of twenty minutes each way? Or do they just shrug and start work? Who’s doing the forward thinking to make sure this doesn’t happen?

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Penny-Pinching In one sports equipment manufacturing plant I visited, the workers had to go to the safety manager and request a new pair of gloves when needed, knowing they’d get a hard time: “Why do you need new gloves? What happened to your last pair?” the safety manager would ask, just like the worker was a kid who’d lost their mittens. No doubt the manager was told to stay within the glove-purchasing budget and control costs. Maybe he saved a couple hundred bucks a year this way. Naturally, the workers kept wearing gloves with holes in them, and worked without gloves when one got lost.They didn’t want the hassle or the lecture. As a result of this apparently trivial, small-thinking policy, hands were maimed and injured. Indeed, a few years later, when upper management figured out what was happening to their worker’s comp insurance, they put out big barrels of gloves, so people could just grab them when needed. They worried a bit about pilfering, but figured they could lose a whole lot of gloves, and still come out ahead, not just health-wise and morale-wise, but money-wise. Indeed, in my work, I see this happen again and again. Often it’s only upper management who can really see how safety con- tributes to the bottom line, because they’re the ones who see the ultimate costs of injuries, lost time, and all the other real costs of penny-pinching.

Wh y B a d T h i n g s H a p p e n to Good H a n d s · 37


A story from a colleague of mine, let’s call her Linda: “I got a new job at a big agribusiness chemical concern, calibrating automated machinery for pesticide delivery on crops in dif- ferent provinces. My first day on the job,” says Linda, “I was flown across the country, and when I arrived, I received the keys for my vehicle. Just like that, boom, I headed out on my own. That same afternoon, I started working with incredibly dangerous fungicides, pesticides, and other chemicals, and doing these calibrations of equipment. About four months in, I got an email telling me to come to headquarters for my safety training. That email was so funny, I laughed out loud.” Worker Attitudes, Worker Culture, and Cognitive Biases In chapter three we’re going to dive deep into the crucial issue of safety psychology, but I’ve put worker attitudes, worker cul- ture, and cognitive biases at the end of my list of human factors for a reason. Safety starts with the attitude of management, not the attitude of workers. And safety is ultimately the responsi- bility of management, too. No getting around it. That said, the mindset of the worker in the moment matters enormously when it comes to hand safety. Bad things happen to good hands because tools are used improperly—even though workers were trained on how to use them properly. Bad things happen because safety mechanisms are disabled in a moment of frustration, in order to get something done quicker. Or because “I just need to do this one thing.”

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Bad things happen because sometimes workers come from a culture where fatalism is rampant or where people accept inju- ries as an inevitable fact of life. In these cultures, people may say, “There’s nothing you can do about it. Accidents just happen. It’s all in the hands of God.”


“Probably 80 percent of these guys think it’s a good idea to put on all their PPE…There is a portion of the guys that feel it is just a pain in the ass and we will do it because we have to but we don’t really need to do that.”

“When the safety people are around everybody is doing things right, and when they leave it goes back to not using PPE.”

“They tend to take shortcuts—‘It’s not going to happen to me today’…They tend to push the envelope.”

“Most of the drivers buy into [using PPE]…but sometimes they are apathetic, they get sloppy and they cut corners, and it’s just human nature.” Bad things happen because workers become careless with the safety of others, such as in leaving debris or dangerous tools lying around unprotected—a box cutter left open on a work- table, for example. Bad things happen because workers ignore policies and procedures. Bad things happen because workers don’t say anything when they see a hazard.

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Bad things happen to good hands because people keep going even when they know they’re too tired to be safe.

THE UNSEEN DANGER In addition to all the above, every human is subject to cognitive biases which impair their ability to see and react to dangers. Safety expert, Matt Hallowell, offers the perfect example. He says to imagine a crew drilling into the earth with two big, powered augers. 10 One is spinning and one is not. It’s obvious the spinning auger is dangerous and everyone stays back. But the one that’s not spinning may be the more dangerous.Maybe it’s stuck, and enormous forces are building up and it’s about to break apart and go flying in all directions. An experienced worker would immediately spot this danger, right? Maybe. Ironically, experienced workers can sometimes be even more at risk to unseen dangers than inexperienced workers, because they are not looking at a situation with fresh eyes. A safety manager for oil rigs once told me that he visited an offshore platform and was going through his checklist when he asked, “Where are the lifeboats?” No one knew the answer, even the guys who had been working out there for years. A new worker coming onto the rig? Lifeboats might be his first question. We’ll explore plenty of other cognitive biases that threaten workers in chapter three.

THINGS THAT HAPPEN Here’s a story from a municipal utility worker doing sewer line

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construction. “Last week we were out in what we call our TV truck, which runs cameras down the tunnels with long cables, to do inspections.The cable reel has big, dangerous gears which are supposed to have protective guards covering them. But the guys had removed these guards to adjust something, and they didn’t bother to put them back on when they started the reel back up. I guess they were just in a hurry. So one guy caught the tip of his finger, and the gears cut it right off. He was wearing gloves, but the gloves didn’t help.” At a poultry processing facility, a worker was trying to unclog a chicken marinade pump.He removed the hose that was secured with a clamp and stuck his finger in, where it was lobbed off by the impeller. 11 Just dumb? Maybe no one told him to shut off the machines before trying a fix? Maybe they figured “anyone would know that?” At a beef processing plant, a worker cutting a carcass with a saw took off his own fingers. 12 Chainmail gloves might have saved him, but he had none on. Were they unavailable? Did he just get careless? At a tire processing plant in Canada, a kid was pulled into a tire shredding machine and died. 13 It had no emergency stop button. Imagine a tire shreddingmachine with no emergency stop button! At an auto insulation factory in Ohio, a worker got his hand caught in a waste shredding machine while he was guiding waste into it. Part of his forearm had to be amputated. No guard mechanism was on the machine to prevent this from happening. The machine had been used for years without incident—but without the guard, this specific incident was always waiting to happen.The government fined the factory $570,000. 14

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There’s a rule of thumb (bad pun) that you shouldn’t wear gloves while operating rotating equipment, because the machinery can grab the glove and take the skin off your hand with it, an event known euphemistically as being “degloved.”A sixty-three-year- old man, nearing retirement, had worked as a machine engineer at a company for most of his life. He was extremely experi- enced with a machine that included a flywheel to drive the mechanism—maybe too experienced. It was his habit to wear gloves to slow down the flywheel when necessary, and he wore a driver’s-style, loose-fit leather glove for that purpose. But this time, for some reason, his hand strayed to the choke, allowing the spinning wheel to grab the glove and snatch it off, along with three of his fingers. 15 Could training have prevented this? Some kind of guard? Certainly something more than experi- ence was required; the way he’d been working had always been dangerously wrong, for decades. Safety expert, Sam Cunard, tells the story of a construction worker in California who cut his hand because he was wearing gloves with no cut protection. 16 The little cut was apparently no big deal, so he didn’t report it. Or treat it.Turns out he got a tiny splinter down deep inside, undetected, so the little cut never healed. Eventually, the cut got infected with MRSA. Eventually, the entire hand had to be amputated. Could better gloves, along with mandatory injury reporting have saved his hand? Well, probably yes.


All of the above hand injuries were preventable. Indeed, the vast majority of hand injuries are preventable.They just are. If

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they’re not prevented, it’s symptomatic of something wrong with a company’s overall culture. No forethought. No poli- cies. Policies not enforced. Inadequate training. Bad attitudes. Workers getting fatalistic. Importantly, attitude is not an individual event. Attitude is a shared experience that starts at the top. At a good company, the safety culture is so strong that in order to be part of the popular, insider “gang,”you have to be safe.At a bad company,safety is not even dis- cussed—it’s practically a taboo subject, as if by mentioning safety concerns youwere going to bring on the gaze of a fatalistic,evil eye. In fact, fatalism is probably the leading indicator of a bad com- pany. At a bad company, you will find a pervasive, ingrained attitude that some injuries are just inevitable. They’re an unavoidable cost of operation, same as the cost of supplies. Same as the cost of (interchangeable) labor. Same as the inev- itable safety fines. Among workers, the same fatalism will take hold—bad stuff is going to happen if it’s your unlucky day. No avoiding it. Let me put a stake in the ground. Fatalism is immoral both at the management level and at the worker level. That’s because fatalism is an abdication of responsibility. It’s never “all in God’s hands.” At a good company, not only is fatalism completely rejected, they believe in trying to get to zero injuries. They believe it’s possible. Even more, they believe that zero injuries make for good ROI.They know that not only will zero injuries mean that worker’s comp costs go down and safety fines will disappear, but workers will have improved productivity as their trust increases. Retention will shoot up, because caring is a two-way street.

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Let me end this chapter about “why bad things happen to good hands” with a story about one of my salespeople visiting a large, well-known brewery. He asked the COO how many hand injuries they had on a typical day, and the COO said, “Something like ten or twelve.” My salesman, trying to make nice, said, “I guess that’s not too big a deal, since you have about 500 employees working onsite on a typical day.” The COO got angry. He said, “No, that is a very big deal, not just because people are getting hurt, but because I lose five or six hours every day for injuries. Even if they just get a little cut, they have to stop and go get first aid. They have to fill out some forms. It’s a minimum of half an hour before they’re back at work, and sometimes they’re out for days. Ten or twelve injuries a day is a very, very big deal. That’s why I have you standing here to talk about better gloves!” That COO was starting to see the big picture. He was starting to see that when bad things happen to good hands, everyone suffers. And he was ready to take action.

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Now that we’ve seen why bad things happen to good hands, and why all i njuries reflect the overall culture of an organiza- tion, let’s bring that information together into a top ten of bad approaches to safety. I figure if I boil it down to ten, the list will focus our minds for the chapters to come. I’m tempted to imitate the late-night talk show hosts, and do my countdown from ten to one, with a big dramatic drumroll for number one. But number one is too important to bury like that. If a company gets number one wrong, each of the other mistakes will inevitably follow. So let’s just go right there.

T h e To p T e n H a n d S a f e t y M i s ta k e s · 45


Way too often, the people sitting in conference rooms at the tops of office towers have absolutely no idea if their workers are safe. Much less any idea how to keep them safe. Way too often, the people at the tops of office towers think of safety as some kind of regulatory checkbox or housekeeping item—something you delegate down to the warehouse supervi- sor, or the yard boss, or the shop foreman, or the ship’s captain, or the crew lead out at the site. Many top managers go further and assume that even supervi- sors cannot control safety.They believe that safety comes only from “worker attitudes” the company cannot influence. They say things like, “Those guys are a tough bunch doing a tough job, and they’re gonna do what they’re gonna do.” But here’s the deal: without safety leadership coming from the very top of the office tower, from the boardroom and the CEO’s office, no company will ever develop a genuine culture of safety. Without direction from the top, you will never see safety think- ing at every level of a company, or a true spirit of team safety, or consistently good decisions made right down to the level of the guy or gal operating the pneumatic drill. Not only do I never see downstream safety thinking without upstream safety thinking, I know it’s impossible. Partly that’s because workers derive their personal attitudes very much from company attitudes. In later chapters, we’ll look more closely at how and why that happens, but for now let’s

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