Every year, hand injuries result in more than a million emergency room visits, making them the second-most common work-related injury, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The most important reason to reduce these numbers is worker health and safety. But a compelling business case for accident prevention exists, too. The direct costs of hand injuries are very high, but the indirect costs – such as lost productivity, training for replacement workers and even negative publicity – are even higher.
To reduce these costs, make sure your workers wear appropriate protective gloves to prevent cuts and abrasions, the most common types of hand injuries. Take note of an OSHA study indicating approximately 70 percent of workers who experienced hand injuries did not wear protective gloves when the injury occurred. Safety leaders need insights into why workers choose not to wear protective gloves, and fresh solutions to reverse this resistance or neglect. New material technologies that combine a high level of cut protection along with light weight, thinness for improved dexterity and breathability to prevent overheating enable the manufacture of high-performance, comfortable gloves that workers willingly use.
True costs of hand injuries
Here are some sobering statistics:
- A study appearing in Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery indicated that hand and wrist injuries represent the most expensive type of injury in the Netherlands, costing about U.S. $740 million annually.1
- Stitches can cost up to U.S. $2,000, mending a laceration can cost up to $10,000 and repairing a severed tendon can exceed $10,000.2
The BLS reports, “The average hand injury claim has now exceeded $6,000, with each lost-time workers’ compensation claim reaching nearly $7,500.”3
These numbers are only the tip of the iceberg. According to the American Society of Safety Engineers, indirect costs of injuries can be 20 times the direct costs.4 Indirect, virtually incalculable costs can include the expense of investigating the accident; lost worker productivity; training of a replacement employee; damage to workers’ morale that leads to absenteeism; and a negative impact on the company’s reputation.
Why workers don’t wear gloves
You need to understand why some of your workers will fail to use protective gloves consistently or at all. Assuming you have selected gloves appropriate for the tasks and you’ve clearly explained the importance of wearing them, if workers still do not follow through, the issue may be discomfort or lack of dexterity.
Some cut-resistant gloves, such as those used in automotive, steel, glass and paper manufacturing operations that require up to Level 5 protection – the highest level of cut-resistance in the industry – are reinforced with steel or fiberglass.5 But bulk, stiffness, and sometimes weight can interfere with dexterity in precision tasks and cause hand fatigue. Broken fiberglass filaments can poke, causing skin irritation and diminishing cut protection in real-world applications.
Traditional safety glove materials such as leather, cotton, nylon and aramid can lead to bulky, non-breathable gloves.
Advances in cut-resistant fiber technology help to eliminate reasons why workers fail to use protective gloves. High-performance textiles, based on ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE), offer light weight, less bulk and comfort and durability. When enhanced with special hardness components, the fiber can deliver cut resistance up to Level 5.
OSHA’s Office of Regulatory Analysis suggests that companies that implement effective health and safety programs can expect a return of $4 to $6 for every dollar invested.6 Similarly, according to the findings of the Executive Survey of Workplace Safety conducted by the Liberty Mutual Group, 61 percent of respondents believed their companies receive a return on investment (ROI) of $3 or more for each dollar they invest in improving workplace safety; 13 percent reported $10 is returned for each dollar invested.7
In addition to delivering monetary ROI, the use of protective gloves featuring the latest high-performance technologies can:
- Improve worker productivity by making it easier to complete tasks requiring precision and dexterity;
- Raise employee morale by avoiding injuries and reducing or eliminating complaints about heavy, bulky or uncomfortable gloves ;
- Increase customer confidence in the organization’s health and safety programs, which can make the difference in winning bids and government contracts.
Manufacturers and other businesses with exposure to hand injuries are turning to protective gloves made with next-generation materials. Upfront investment in gloves made with UHMWPE can provide major returns for a business and its workforce.
1 J Bone Joint Surg Am, 2012 May 02; 94 (9): e56
3 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses
5 There are currently two systems used to evaluate cut resistance, the U.S. Standard, ANSI/ISEA 105 and the European standard, EN 388, both currently use Level 5 to designate the highest level of cut resistance.