Personal protective equipment (PPE) such as work gloves doesn’t immediately spring to mind as a “business enabler” – allowing workers to be more motivated and productive. PPE spend is only one element of investment in health and safety – but it’s an important one. In the U.S., NIOSH estimates 20 million workers use PPE on a regular basis to protect themselves from workplace chemical, mechanical and physical hazards. At a minimum, PPE such as hand protection should provide fail-safe protection and meet the highest industry standards, where applicable.

If employers want to maximize these business benefits, as well as ensure workers actually wear PPE provided, they need to pay greater attention to factors such as glove ergonomic design, how gloves interact with job requirements, and glove comfort, fitness for use and aesthetic appeal.

Figures from OSHA show that in 2014, workers suffered 95,950 fractures that required days away from work to recuperate, while there were 97,080 cases of bruises and contusions. These are “business disenablers.”

Injury statistics

Upper extremities (hands and arms) affected by an injury or illness accounted for 346,170 cases (or 32 cases per 10,000 full-time workers) and hands accounted for two in five of these. In the U.S. oil and gas industry, statistics from the International Association of Drilling Contractors members show that more than 40 percent of all recordable incidents in 2015 affected the hands, wrists, fingers or thumbs, with more than 38 percent leading to lost time. 

In making hand protection purchasing decisions, many businesses overlook the true cost of injuries such as these. Direct costs include workers’ compensation payments, medical expenses and costs for legal services; indirect costs include training replacement employees, accident investigation, implementation of corrective measures, lost productivity, repairs to damaged equipment, costs associated with lower morale and absenteeism, and perhaps even penalties for legislative breaches.

The National Safety Council estimates the total price tag of occupational deaths and injuries in the U.S. economy in 2013 breaks down to a cost per worker of $1,400 (including the value of goods or services each worker must produce to offset the cost of work injuries – it is not the average cost of a work-related injury) and cost per medically consulted injury of $42,000.

Barriers to use

An ongoing problem across all industries is that too many injury victims were not wearing the PPE supplied by their employer. An analysis by the Health and Safety Executive, the British safety regulator, found that hand/arm and foot protection were the most common failure categories followed by eye and face protection.

Workers don’t wear PPE that is uncomfortable, made from poor quality materials, prevents them from moving or seeing properly, is ugly or hinders performance requirements. Good product design, the right materials, matching PPE to technical job specifications and informed purchasing decisions will overcome these barriers to usage.