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Kermit Muhammad, M.D.
OAK Orthopedics

As spring quickly approaches many are preparing to take their hobbies and activities to the next level, spring cleaning, redecorating and remodeling etc. These DIY projects can be very rewarding but they come with an element of risk. The use of circular saws and related equipment is on the increase during this period the professional carpenter and hobbyist are both hard at work building. In my practice I see a great deal of injury to the hands and upper extremities as a result of circular saws. Amputation is often the result, and if reconstruction is an option the results are often disfiguring.

As a practicing hand surgeon I see my share of these injuries and there are some simple observations I can make from 10 years of practice that may help avoid these problems. The first observation is that most if not all of the injuries that I see happen with people who consider themselves comfortable around a saw of whatever type they are working with. They know and understand the safety precautions and have firm policy in how they deal with their tools but for one reason or another they don’t follow protocol and a bad injury is the result.

The safety precautions that should be taken are obvious but should be stated and then of course followed. Your work space should be clean and uncluttered well lit an dry. Proper protective wear including protective goggles should be worn. Loose clothing or jewelry should be removed. Also importantly a good pair of work gloves to protect against nicks and scrapes. I see many bad tendon injuries that require reconstruction following a seemingly innocuous wound. Most importantly, making sure that your equipment is working properly is paramount. Making sure the lower guard of a circular saw is in working condition is key. For a table saw there are now high tech mechanisms that put an automatic brake in place when the blade comes in contact with flesh. Lastly, and even more painfully obvious, do not disable any of the safety equipment on the saw you are working with.

In summary, many of the amputated fingers and mangled hands are not really “accidents” when you consider that standard safety precautions are often not followed. The carelessness or temporary lack of attention of the experienced carpenter leads to a predictable outcome that I see all too often. They are sometimes predictable occurrences when safety protocols are not followed. Many of my patients spend a lifetime working with various saws and some have multiple hand injuries , and others have none. The difference between the two groups comes by paying attention to the small details and sticking with a clear safety plan. Develop good habits and maintain your attention on the task at hand and you can avoid a visit to your local hand surgeon.

(For more information regarding Hand safety visit assh.org/handcare/hand-arm-safety)