Door Finger Injuries and Their Prevention

Three reported stories underscore the potentially tragic finger accidents that can occur in connection with doors. In Palo Alto, California, an 11-year-old lost a fingertip in a restroom-door accident. Despite a normal level of supervision by staff, a toddler of 20 months lost a portion of his finger while at a child-care center. And, a boy celebrating his 4th birthday had his finger partially amputated by a restroom door at a McDonalds restaurant.

Door Finger Injuries and Their Prevention

Prevent Door Finger Injuries

Accident statistics reveal that these stories represent the proverbial tip of the iceberg:

  • • 300,000 emergency clinic door-finger injuries/year
  • • 25,000 of these resulting in amputations or fractures

These are alarming statistics, to say the least. And, there is often liability associated with these accidents. In two such incidents, awards were reported to be in the amount of $600,000 or more. This liability exposure extends to the owners of many types of buildings and the businesses that operate in those buildings including schools, child care centers, recreation centers, restaurants, and many other establishments.

Door-finger accidents occur on both the handle side and the hinge side of the door. The handle-side accidents are more common, but generally less severe. Conversely, the hinge-side accidents are less common but generally more severe. For this reason, some people familiar with the door-finger hazard refer to the hinge side of the door as the amputation side of the door.

The reason for the severity on the hinge side of the door is the tremendous leverage involved when a door is closed. To see for yourself, grab two pencils and conduct the following experiment: First, using moderate force, close the door on a pencil that is positioned on the handle side of the door. You will probably notice a substantial nick in the pencil. Next, again using moderate force, close the door on a pencil that is positioned on the hinge side of the door. The door will act as a guillotine, instantly severing the pencil into two pieces. Again, the reason for this dramatic result is the leverage involved leverage which produces about 40 tons of pressure per square inch!

Fortunately, door-finger accidents can be prevented. On the handle side, the traditional protective device is a foam donut that slips over the edge of the door and prevents the door from closing. A more recent innovation is a similar slip-on bumper that provides the same protection but affords an on/off toggle mechanism. When rotated to the on position, the door cannot be fully closed leaving a gap to protect a finger that would otherwise be in harms way. When rotated to the off position, the door can be closed. This on/off mechanism is very convenient because it allows the protective device to remain on the door even when closing the door a feature not found in the traditional door donuts.

Providing protection on the hinge side takes a little more doing. The traditional approach is to use articulating plastic shields (also called guards) to cover the danger zone between the door and the jamb. One such shield is positioned on the front of the door, and a second smaller shield is positioned on the rear of the door.

The traditional shield design requires screws (or very aggressive adhesive), and therefore takes some skill and considerable time to install. These traditional models are somewhat stiff, being made of one homogenous material with creases or bends to cover the danger area. When installed, these shields will generally have a preferred position causing the door to open or close until that preferred position is achieved. Accordingly, the user may need to use a door stop to achieve and maintain the door in a desired partially or fully open position.

A more recent design utilizes a co-extrusion process involving two different materials. Material A is stiff and Material B is quite flexible. The flexible material is used to create multiple living hinges. These living hinges allow the shield to take any position (opened, closed, or anywhere in between) without creating any stress in the shield. This means that the shield will not have a preferred position allowing the door to be left in any position without the need for a door stop. It also means that the shield can be attached without screws and without a very aggressive adhesive. (The adhesive used resembles the gummy adhesive that comes with a new credit card.)

Using the safety devices described above will greatly reduce or eliminate a significant hazard. These devices are not expensive, and can prevent gruesome and permanent injuries. In the area of door safety, an ounce of prevention can prevent 40 tons of anguish and disability.