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Love Your Hands

Published: 03rd Mar 2014 in OSA Magazine

Striving for an incident free workplace, Dean Cowley shares hand safety campaigns and technologies that are driving safety in Asia.

Often taken for granted, our hands and fingers are used to perform countless daily tasks. Hands are an extremely versatile and functional part of our body and injury to them can mean major physical disability. Carelessness, a lack of awareness, a disregard for safety procedures, and distractions are among the most common causes of hand injuries in the workplace.

Figures for hand injuries are high across all industries. A review of hospitalisations due to work related injuries in Australia, conducted by the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission (NOHSC), found that in 2004 hand injuries represented 37.17% of the total of 15,902 work related hospital treated cases. This location on the body was the most frequent occupational injury.

This trend is especially true of the construction and mining industries, particularly when it comes to workshops and workshop related activities. Indeed, a 2013 Australian government mines safety bulletin reported that “Hand injuries are the second most commonly reported lost time injuries in the Queensland mining industry.” In many ways, this data is not surprising, since the hands are often central to work tasks. Consequently, they are often the closest part of the body to the work hazard such as the hammer impact point, vibrating tool, hot pipe or sharp object.

Analysis of workplace incidents shows that some of the main reasons for hand injuries are:

• Hands being caught or pinched between objects
• Hands being hit by flying, moving or falling objects
• Hands striking objects or making contact with a sharp object

Most hand injuries occur during maintenance activities when carelessness or complacency can ensue, resulting in:

• The use of incorrect tools
• Failure to use appropriate hand protection
• Adoption of hazardous body positions or work methods

Hand safety campaign

To raise awareness of hand safety and eliminate hand injuries, both health, safety and environment teams and project plant teams from a large coal mining project in Indonesia devised a campaign entitled, ‘Aku Sayang Tanganku’, which translates as ‘I Love My Hands’. While the key elements could be applied at any workplace, the campaign had a distinctly Indonesian touch in terms of its slogan, ‘Aku Sayang Tanganku’. The word ‘Sayang’ is powerfully emotive and catches the immediate attention of Indonesians. It can mean love, care or darling.

Between August 2008 and July 2012, this project, which involved around 1,800 employees, reported 39 hand injuries - approximately 0.8 of a hand injury every month. Of these 39 injuries, one was a lost time injury (LTI) and seven were recordable injuries, including those requiring medical treatment and alternate work injuries.

The awareness campaign was launched at a scheduled weekly safety talk at the workshop. Including the plant management team, mechanics and subcontractors, 159 workers attended. All participants were asked to sign ‘I love my hands’ on a hand shaped piece of plywood, as proof of their commitment to hand safety. The plywood was placed at the workshop, fuel stations and the field workshop areas of the site as a reminder to workers to take care of their hands.

The message from this Indonesian based campaign was then shared with the rest of the organisation.

Since the campaign was run in August 2012, the monthly frequency of such injuries has halved and the severity has reduced to the lower end of the scale, with only first aid treatment required in each case. Based on its success, other projects in the region are running similarly themed initiatives.

Safety gloves and safe hand practises

The take home message is that hand injuries can be mitigated if appropriate precautions are taken. Safety gloves in their various forms, such as non slip cotton and cut and puncture resistant, are essential PPE. Gloves will reduce the risk of laceration, abrasion and puncture injuries, which based on company injury statistics, account for about 70% of hand injuries. Gloves offer little protection, however, against fracture or crush injuries.

Some companies stipulate in their safety guidelines that staff must always carry gloves with them, so that they are readily available when needed. Different types of gloves should be worn to protect hands in most activities, but when there is a risk of entanglement in rotating equipment the safer practise is not to wear gloves at all, particularly loose fitting ones.

Workers are encouraged to keep their eyes on hands when using tools to avoid injuries including cutting, pinching, crushing and burning. Staff are advised never to place hands near lifting points or between a load and a fixed object.

Hierarchy of control

The only way to truly manage safety risks is to engineer them out of the workplace. Companies must rigorously apply the hierarchy of controls to the management of safety risks, at all times looking for hard control measures as pictured in the hierarchy of controls image, above.

During the Indonesian hand safety campaign mentioned previously, a range of hard and soft controls were introduced and reviewed to ensure that everything possible was being done to reduce the risk of hand injury.

The hierarchy of control shows a list of control measures, in order of priority, which can be used to eliminate or at least minimise exposure to a particular hazard or risk. Rather than starting from the bottom of the hierarchy, companies should constantly strive to work above the line so that the focus is on hard, higher order risk controls that will ultimately shape behaviour.

With respect to the Love My Hands campaign, the various controls included: reviewing design of drill rigs, rebar machines and the like so as to improve them through lifting points and hand holds, for example; offering protection through positioning or design of control buttons and installing guards where possible; identifying better machines available on the market and adjusting purchasing specifications accordingly. Any pinch points were marked with high visibility paint, appropriate signage was placed around the site and a hand safety training presentation was conducted alongside the campaign.

In order to instil strong hand safety behaviour for the long term, programmes for workplace leadership, safety awareness walks and hand safety focused toolbox talks took place. Furthermore, employee hazard identification was improved in relation to the potential risk of having a body part pinched or crushed, as was supervision on hazardous tasks, especially during shifts taking place at high risk times.

Behaviours were also more closely monitored to enhance awareness of body position when engaging equipment such as drills or power tools. More rigorous risk assessments were also undertaken.

Under the company’s ongoing safety initiative two established key rules were highlighted with regard to this campaign. The first of these was to report to work fit and identify risks prior to the commencement of any task. The second was to perform lifting and supporting tasks safely on every occasion. This was in addition to ensuring adequate and correct PPE was available and conducting a glove survey to identify gloves that were deemed the best fit for the purpose.

The company also made assurances that best housekeeping practises had been adopted in disposing of sharp objects after de-nailing timber. Any jewellery that presented a potential risk to fingers was removed before entering the workplace and appropriate signage for wearing loose sleeves and gloves near rotating equipment was assembled. Improved monitoring ensured compliance with such practises.

Striving for an incident free environment

To align clear accountabilities, leadership, risk management and training to the transformation of safety, businesses are increasingly embarking on behavioural safety campaigns. One such campaign, the Strive for LIFE initiative, began in 2009 and is now an ongoing commitment to strive for an incident free environment.

A strategic review of the initiative was conducted in October 2012, identifying three foundations that represent a roadmap of the activities needed to ensure a vibrant safety culture exists on each project workplace. These foundations, as detailed further in the following sections, are the minimum standards expected of each business unit and are defined as culture and leadership, Class 1 incident focus, and behaviour.

Culture and leadership

The culture of the organisation is set by business leaders and so the safety culture must start at and be driven from the top. The culture of the organisation is shaped by defining a core value of providing a safe and healthy workplace. All management and supervisory level staff are required to attend a safety leadership course and become visible leaders.

Eliminating Class 1 risk

Each business must have a Class 1 or high consequence risk management process that describes the various steps of the risk management approach, from the planning stages through to frontline delivery. Risk management must involve the right people, actively participating at every stage of the task delivery process, to ensure all risks are captured.

The process must also include simple yet effective risk briefing and control monitoring tools, so as to ensure the required controls for the task are being effectively communicated to frontline staff and workers.


Businesses provide their staff with an introduction and overview to their Class 1 risk management procedures. These programmes are designed based on a comprehensive Training Needs Analysis (TNA). Based on the particular TNA, projects are required to develop their own specific training programmes. The expectation is for these courses to be made available in both English and the local language of the business. Attendance must be mandatory for all staff, from senior operations staff to frontline foremen.

Training facilities

To ensure that the businesses are able to efficiently deliver their training curriculum, it is now common to see Strive for LIFE training centres across Asia. These centres have specific mock up areas that allow the company to demonstrate to its workers how to safely execute high risk tasks.

Due to the frequency and severity of the safety risks associated with working in industry, a huge amount of pressure on frontline supervisors and managers has been recognised, in terms of the amount of information to absorb and the documentation that must be completed to satisfy safety management system requirements. To help staff perform to the best of their ability, mobile safety apps have been developed to facilitate easy retrieval of vital safety related information in the workplace.

Apps allow staff easy access to safety standards, codes of practise, frontline training materials and more. They also provide staff with simplified and improved access to the key elements of safety management systems, reference documentation, risk assessments and method statements when working on the frontline.

Branding, promotion and support

Behaviours learned through comprehensive training programmes are further instilled through visible promotion. This is a major part of the successful implementation of safety management standards, which together with the safety policy and safety objectives are a vital enabler for continuous improvement. High profile health and safety promotional programmes set the tone that predisposes both individual and organisational behavioural expectations for the management of safety.

Embedding the core value of providing a safe and healthy workplace within companies and laying the foundations of safety initiatives will pay off substantially. As the earlier example of the Indonesian coal mining project demonstrates, the company has now surpassed two years and 16 million man hours free from lost injury time. Projects across all operations are reporting similarly positive statistics. External recognition for safe practises is visible through extensive construction industry safety accolades and a global occupational health and safety award.

Workers are not expendable. It is time for employers to step up to the mark and ensure that each and every one of their workers stays safe. 

Published: 03rd Mar 2014 in OSA Magazine


Dean Cowley

About Leighton Asia, India and Offshore

Leighton Asia, India and Offshore leverages comprehensive sector expertise and geographic diversity as a leading construction and mining services provider. The company possesses a unique combination of local knowledge and extensive international experience, which allows the development of competitive, innovative and practical solutions across Asia, India and the global offshore market.

The ability to consistently deliver results to clients, shareholders and communities in its geographically vast and culturally diverse footprint is backed by the company’s motivated, focused and performance driven employees. Leighton Asia, India and Offshore currently operates in China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, Mongolia, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam. Leighton Asia, India and Offshore is headquartered in Hong Kong.

Dean Cowley


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