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Photon Sciences ESH Highlight #49

Hand Safety

Date: January 7, 2011
Editor: Lori Stiegler

It's not unusual for experiment needs to change, and beam time to be limited while conducting research at the NSLS. Unfortunately, these factors, and several other contributing factors, converged recently and adversely affected an experimenter. The result was a hand injury that required a trip to the hospital, and sutures. In the case of this injury, the user was trying to fashion a new sample holder because of difficulty with the equipment he had brought from his home institution. The idea for the substitute sample holder had been previously discussed with his work group, but never tried. Using the alternate tools and holders he had brought, he tried to cut a slot out of a hard plastic tube with a razor knife. The knife slipped and cut his finger.

If we stop to consider human performance error traps, there were several associated with this injury.

  • Time pressure – there was little beam time left to get data. This forced him to try an alternate approach to the experimental equipment, using what was readily available.
  • Fatigue - due to the problems with the experiment, the user had been at the beam line until early morning; got little sleep, and came back to NSLS with only about 3 hours sleep.
  • First time evolution - the equipment he had been using wasn’t working, so he decided to try to make a different type
  • Incorrect tool - The only tool he had available to make the new sample chamber was a razor knife. This was not the right tool to make the kind of cut needed in the hard plastic.

Protecting your hands requires constant attention to the task being done. Experimental work frequently involves sharp edges, hot surfaces, and moving tables or sample robots with pinch points. Being aware of the hazards is important. You may consider gloves for some tasks:

  • Heavy gloves for cryogens or heating stages
  • Cut resistant gloves for hand tool work
  • Disposable gloves for splash protection from chemicals
  • Work gloves for moving equipment

Help is available for tasks such as this at the NSLS, from the beam line local contact, or the Operations Coordinator. If they are not able to help, they can find you help. For this instance, better tools could have been the solution. The NSLS has a user machine shop filled with equipment and staffed full time. There may have been a safer way to construct the sample holder.

Brookhaven National Lab has experienced several hand injuries from similar circumstances. There is more guidance on selecting tools, and personal protective equipment for hands in the BNL Safety Topic 'Hand Safety'