Regulations on hand protection (and personal protective equipment in general) are fuzzy enough — general requirements only are spelled out in OSHA’s standards — to invite considerable interpretation. Your procurement officer may prioritize up-front costs, while human resources or legal may weigh things like time lost to injury and workers’ comp claims. Workers themselves simply want comfortable gloves that protect their hands and allow them to do what needs to be done.
Too often, these perspectives run counter to each other, and compromises result. New cut protection technologies make it possible to serve all parties and deliver comfortable, effective, safe and cost-effective hand protection to workers. The challenge is to make sure all the interested parties know this.
Why it matters
Hand injuries are a significant issue in the workplace — especially in manufacturing environments. The hands incur 13 percent of all industrial injuries, and cuts, in particular, can be costly — hitting employers with an average financial impact of $21,918 per incident, according to the National Safety Council 2014 Injury Data. Hand protection matters, which makes the gaps between requirements, needs and behaviors so disturbing.
Our research tells us 43 percent of workers aren’t sure if the gloves they’re wearing adequately protect their hands. Consider also that 25 percent of workers believe their employers expect them to wear their gloves beyond the point at which they should be replaced. Obviously industry has issues with hand protection.
Differing Perspectives Priorities for hand protection reflect an
Distributors What They Want:
Brand that gives their organization a competitive advantage
Safety Managers What They Want:
Brand whose products improve worker performance
Procurement What They Want:
Cost savings, comprehensive offering, global serviceability
Workers What They Want:
Comfortable products that make their jobs easier while keeping
Why is this happening? Understand this: Workers care about three things when it comes to their gloves: comfort, performance and protection, likely in that order. They wear these gloves all day, every day. To believe comfort doesn’t matter—or is secondary to protection—is either naive or obtuse, or both. Employers may have the best of intentions in providing bulky, uncomfortable gloves that provide exceptional protection, but in reality they’re encouraging workers to take those gloves off frequently (leaving them unprotected) or even buy their own gloves that may be more comfortable but provide little or no protection against cuts or other injuries. And even if gloves are comfortable enough and provide adequate protection, if they don’t deliver the grip and dexterity required to perform daily tasks, workers aren’t likely to use them for long.
The employer perspective is different. Capital costs related to purchasing and replacing gloves can seem like an easy corner to cut when regulations leave so much room for interpretation. Even employers with a firm grasp on life cycle costs and total cost of ownership may lean toward overprotection, investing more up front in the misguided belief that they’re avoiding more of those $22,000 incidents down the line. It might be true, unless those workers tire of heavy protective gloves and start to do more and more work with no gloves at all. Or they increasingly have slips and drops because the bulky gloves lack the grip needed to perform the tasks required. Replacing broken parts and tools also can be expensive.
See the contradictions? There are no bad guys here. But good intentions from limited perspectives still can result in bad outcomes.
Our research tells us three things: (1) Workers want lighter gloves with more dexterity and improved grip and tactility, but they do not want to compromise on cut protection; (2) gatekeepers are concerned with employee safety and frustrated with glove selection; and (3) if the gloves aren’t going to be replaced frequently, everyone involved wants increased durability. And, of course, price is always a consideration. Traditionally, many of the most effective cut protection gloves have carried premium price tags, mostly due to the cost of materials.
All of this is possible with emerging glove technologies. Advanced materials, including yarns developed in-house specifically for cut protection and 18-gauge knit liners for best-in-class comfort, make it possible to provide lightweight, breathable, form-fitting gloves with ANSI cut level protection from 2-5 to match the varying needs of the worker. These advancements in yarn allow for durable, flexible gloves with varieties of dip lines that can provide all-day comfort and cut protection.
You need to remember some important points. First, these aren’t “one-size-fits-all” gloves. The various levels of cut protection and dip lines are tailored to specific tasks, and responsible vendors can help workers and employers find the right gloves for the right jobs. That’s critical, because asking workers to wear the wrong gloves is no different than asking them to use the wrong tools for the job. Also, the development of those in-house materials matters. Why? Because material costs drive up the cost of gloves. Those in-house yarns can keep costs down so premium gloves don’t have to carry a premium price tag.
Compromise isn’t a bad practice, unless it’s unnecessary. That’s where we are today. It’s a problem we can solve if we step back and look at it from a wider perspective. Advancements in technology are eliminating the need to sacrifice, so everyone involved—workers, procurement officers and HR managers—can have what they want: comfort, performance and protection at reasonable costs.