Drive home the value of gloves: Hand injuries send a million workers to ERs each year

September 6, 2012
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The world market for personal protective equipment (PPE) will grow to $33.3 billion by 2015, according to a report by Global Industry Analysts, Inc. That means companies will spend $33.3 billion dollars providing their workers with protective clothing, gloves, footwear, eye and face protection, respiratory protection and hearing protection. Gloves are the most common form of PPE.

That’s a lot of money, but after the softness of the economy the last few years, it is good to hear about growth. The underlying indicators point to car manufacturing, steel, chemical and construction industries as rebounding and will push the demand for PPE products.

While a lot of the PPE buying will come from developing countries like Russia and China, whose workforces and governments are discovering the benefits of protecting workers, the cost of PPE is not insignificant for any company.

PPE often becomes the target for cost-cutting measures because decision-makers may not fully understand the impact of PPE changes on worker safety. But companies cannot afford to cut corners on PPE for long, given the disproportionately higher costs associated with employee/worker injuries, loss in productivity/performance, and penalties paid for violation and non-conformance to OHS laws. These costs tend to far outweigh any gains stemming from cutting PPE expenditures as a measure to save money.

Cost of hand injuries

The most common way and the one that is becoming better and better understood is how a hand protection program can avoid injuries and therefore costs. While I, and many of my colleagues, have been touting injury statistics and how relatively simple it can be to avoid injuries, it seems like the message is getting heard.

Hand injuries are the No. 2 leading cause of work-related injury and the most preventable. Wearing gloves has been proven to reduce the relative risk of injury by 60 percent. In the manufacturing environment, hand injuries generally result from physical or chemical hazards and result in burns, bruises, abrasions, cuts, punctures, fractures, amputations and chemical exposures to the hand.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports:

110,000 lost-time hand injuries annually
Hand injuries send more than one million workers to the emergency room each year
70 percent of workers who experienced hand injuries were not wearing gloves
The remaining 30 percent of injured workers did wear gloves, but experienced injuries because the gloves were inadequate, damaged or the wrong type for the type of hazard present.


Additionally, the average hand injury claim has now exceeded $6,000, with each lost time workers’ compensation claim reaching nearly $7,500 according to BLS and National Safety Council. On average a U.S. automotive worker earns $33.00 an hour and the average reported hand injury results in six days off work.

The cost of one incident that could have been prevented by workers wearing the right glove often far exceeds the cost of an entire hand protection program. The National Safety Council offers the following as a guide:

  • Direct cost of a laceration: $10,000
  • Stitches: $2,000 plus indirect
  • Butterfly: $300
  • Severed Tendon: > $70,000

Two other trends in the report by Global Industry Analysts bode well for those of us in the safety industry: increasing awareness of safety among industrial workforces, and a rising sense of professionalism that accelerates acceptance of protective wear as part of a worker’s required uniform.

This is great news. For so long, industrial workers had a “tough guy” mentality where they would not wear hand protection and used excuses such as “I can do a better job without gloves” to statements like “gloves get in the way of a good grip.” It is vindicating to see this trend, and I’m sure safety officers around the globe are breathing a sigh of relief to see the tide start to turn.

Which glove works?

Gloves have come a long way thanks to new technology innovations from glove manufacturers and others. With the increased professionalism of workers who are demanding improved comfort, fit and dexterity from their gloves, are new materials and innovative ways to manufacture gloves. Replacing cotton, leather and synthetic yarn are gloves manufactured from engineered fibers and polymers coatings. Applying various coatings to the glove can add additional protection, especially enhanced grip, particularly for cut and laceration protection.

Gloves that offer protection against chemicals are vital in protecting workers against dermatitis, chemical exposure or burns and other long-term heath effects from harmful chemical substances entering the body through the skin. These substances can come in the form of liquids, dusts, vapors, gases or even fibers produced in a process. When chemical-resistant gloves are needed, be sure to carefully evaluate each glove individually. The specification should be based on what kind of job the glove will be used for. Many times MSDS Sheets are vague when it comes to PPE recommendations. Often it is better to consult a glove or PPE manufacturer or their published data on chemical resistance. Manufacturer’s data is much more specific and does not say wear impervious or appropriate gloves. It spells out how many minutes you can safely wear a glove when heavily exposed to a hazardous chemical.

In addition to improving the performance of their gloves, most manufacturers have programs to help you assess the risk and determine the proper glove usage.

Taking care of your gloves

An often overlooked component on the price/value of a particular glove is its life cycle. Many times a glove can be decontaminated or laundered and reused. However, when a hazardous chemical is used, this practice is discouraged and you cannot launder a glove contaminated with a hazardous chemical.

Laundering has the potential to extend a product’s service life. Most non-disposable gloves can be laundered two or more times as long as they are not damaged from use or contaminated with a hazardous chemical.

A major supplier of food products to the restaurant industry wanted to develop a true service life test for a high-performance cut-resistant knit glove made from a high-performance polyethylene yarn engineered with stainless steel. The primary requirement: they had to follow specific industrial laundering instructions, including temperature requirements. We tested gloves after each laundering and found that after following our specific laundering instructions, the cut-resistant gloves retained their original ANSI Cut Level after at least five launderings so far.

The benefits of a hand protection program are many and far outweigh the costs. Working with glove manufacturers to properly assess the risks in your environment and then to develop a cost-effective program is a simple way to protect workers and be a good steward of your company’s finances.

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