If you Want to Keep your Finger, Don’t Put a Ring on It


Jimmy Fallon discovered the truth to this statement in June of 2014.  While walking in his kitchen he tripped on a braided rug.  As he was falling he reached for the counter and his wedding ring was caught on the counter edge.  As he continued to fall the ring tore into his finger.  The result was a finger avulsion.  Fortunately, after several extensive surgeries and months of rehabilitation he has regained the use of his finger.  Thousands of similar injuries, including avulsions, deglovings, and amputations occur in the U.S. each year.  Many include a finger adorned with a ring. 

The typical mechanism of injury is a ring becomes caught on the edge of hard object like a door frame, ladder rung, or basketball rim.  This could happen during a fall, when reaching for something, or when the skin is caught in machinery or a tool.  In the case of a fall, the person keeps moving not aware of the situation and the force of their own body inflicts the damage to their ring finger.  In the case of the basketball rim, the finger is exposed to immense forces as the player returns to the court.  Often a worker descending a ladder missteps.   Holding on to the rungs with both hands (3 points of contact) is appropriate and a complete fall may be prevented.  However, if the ring catches the rung a serious hand injury could result.  Injuries range from minor skin tears to complete amputations of the finger; recovery can take from a few days to several years. 

As if this hazard isn’t serious enough, consider that rings are typically are made of metal and can conduct electricity.  People working with or near any energized machinery are at risk of an electrical burn.  An example of this would be using a wrench to remove a battery cable while wearing a ring on the same hand.  If the wrench comes in contact with the battery terminal(s), the electricity will take the path of least resistance through the wrench and the ring.  In the famous words of Johnny Cash, “and it burns, burns, burns, the ring of fire….”  The OSHA General Industry standard is very clear on this subject:

1910.333(c)(8) "Conductive apparel." Conductive articles of jewelry and clothing (such a watch bands, bracelets, rings, key chains, necklaces, metalized aprons, cloth with conductive thread, or metal headgear) may not be worn if they might contact exposed energized parts. However, such articles may be worn if they are rendered nonconductive by covering, wrapping, or other insulating means.

How can these injuries be prevented?  Review your work environment and create a Job Hazard Analysis (JHA).  This will help you determine where these exposures exist.  In other words, are employees exposed to electrical hazards or other hazards that could be made more serious if workers are wearing rings?  Climbing ladders or operating hand-held tools could be examples.  Keep in mind, other jewelry could be hazardous as well- think necklaces or dangling earrings.   The safest approach is to require your employees to remove their rings temporarily.  Creating “no ring tasks” or “no ring work zones” might be helpful.

The bottom line is that wearing a ring in such an environment can result in a serious injury, even an amputation.  Removing jewelry is the clear answer, but it takes the participation of all employees to be successful. 

For those employees who are opposed to removing a wedding ring there are alternatives.  Rings made to break away (pre-cut) or designs made from silicone or other soft non-conductive materials are readily available.  

By Allan Brown