Where are your gloves?

November 5, 2008
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In a study conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 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 wrong for the type of hazard present.*

OSHA states that employers must use PPE to provide additional protection against hazards that cannot be completely eliminated through other means. The hand injuries that employers need to guard against in the workplace, according to OSHA, are:
  • Burns
  • Bruises
  • Abrasions
  • Cuts
  • Punctures
  • Fractures
  • Amputations
  • Chemical Exposures
The right glove for the task
One resource for glove selection is The International Safety Equipment Association’s glove standard ANSI/ISEA 105-2005, American National Standard for Hand Protection Selection Criteria. It provides a consistent, numeric-scale method for manufacturers to rate their products against certain contaminants and exposures including puncture and abrasion resistance, chemical permeation and degradation, detection of holes, and heat and flame resistance. The 2005 edition also includes tests and selection criteria for vibration reduction and dexterity.

What about compliance?
After selecting the right gloves for a task, how does an employer make sure workers will wear them? Training is key. It is essential to provide employees with information on what hand protection to wear for different tasks, how to don, doff and care for gloves, as well as when to replace gloves. Workers should be taught to visually inspect gloves before each use and to discard and replace any gloves with impaired protective ability due to pinholes or material degradation.

Fortunately, because glove materials today have become so advanced, the development of new glove technologies tends to focus not just on function, but also on issues of fit, comfort and style. Proper fit is critical because it leads to improved productivity. When discussing fit issues, keep in mind that this includes finger length (gloves should not be too long to avoid getting caught in moving equipment) and overall sizing (hand circumference should not be too small so that it reduces the user’s range of motion or too big so that the gloves are too loose). If a glove is more comfortable to wear, users are more likely to comply with PPE protocols — a win/win for both workers and employers.

Features to consider
For general purpose applications, breathable hand protection provides comfort for extended wear. Look for features such as ventilated backs, breathable nylon backing and seamless knit liners. Cotton or poly-cotton liners provide good perspiration absorption and improved hand comfort when non-barrier gloves must be worn.

When cut protection is required, look for comfortable, seamless gloves made of materials that provide protection without compromising comfort. For chemical and liquid resistance, choose gloves made of rubber (natural/latex, butyl and nitrile) or rubber-like materials such as neoprene, or various kinds of plastic (polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyvinyl alcohol and polyethylene) to protect workers from burns, irritation and dermatitis caused by contact with oils, greases, solvents and other chemicals.

In addition, it’s critical to select high-dexterity hand protection, particularly for applications that require the use of fine motor skills. Some glove features that increase dexterity and grip are:
  • Coated fingertips
  • Textured fingertips
  • Dotted palms
For dexterity and abrasion resistance, also consider nitrile gloves, which are ideal for tasks such as small parts handling, warehousing, shipping and receiving. Polyurethane coated gloves also offer excellent grip and tactile sensitivity, making them ideal for tasks such as electronics handling and precision assembly.

Finally, style is becoming increasingly important among workers, and stylish PPE can tip the scale toward improved compliance. Gloves and eyewear tend to be ahead of most other PPE in terms of style. Leading glove manufacturers are taking cues from the retail clothing and performance athletic clothing markets to develop trendy, yet functional styles that people want to wear, especially with the emergence of the Generation Y workforce. Some companies are also beginning to distinguish their products with non-conventional signature colors such as purple for nitrile gloves.

It pays to protect
In addition to the physical harm that hand injuries pose to workers, they also have financial implications. The average hand injury claim has now exceeded $6,000, with each lost-time workers’ compensation claim reaching nearly $7,500, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Safety Council. When you consider these statistics, the overall drain on employee productivity is apparent. While glove use is not the only way to protect against hand injuries, it is a crucial component of any injury prevention program. Finding ways to help workers comply with glove-wearing protocols will go a long way toward creating a safer and more productive work environment.

* Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, www.bls.gov

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