Hand lacerations, abrasions, and chemical exposure are some of the most common injuries workers experience on the job. In fact, hand injuries were the fifth most oft-occurring, nonfatal occupational injury in 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

OSHA requires safety managers to identify work situations in which employees require hand protection but, just as important, specify the proper protection needed. In an industrial manufacturing setting where the tasks are often widely varied, the considerations involved are many.

According to the BLS, 70 percent of workers who suffered hand injuries were not wearing gloves. The other 30 percent? They were wearing hand protection that was inadequate, damaged or the wrong type of glove for the hazard present. Many veteran workers tend to prefer the gloves they’ve worn for years — usually leather, well worn, and more often than not outdated. New workers may eschew gloves altogether. OSHA, while requiring employers to provide appropriate hand protection for workers, does not dictate specifics.

Assessing your needs

As is the case with all personal protective equipment (PPE), there is no “one solution fits all” answer for hand protection. Like all PPE, the effectiveness of hand protection requires safety managers to team with employees to increase worker knowledge, acceptance, and usage of hand and arm protection solutions.

Determining the best hand protection for a job begins with dual evaluations: First, of the environment and hazards present (potential dangers can include chemicals, cuts, punctures, abrasions, and temperature) — and second, of the current hand/arm protection (including worker likes, dislikes, and actual usage).

Handling objects with sharp edges requires a cut-resistant glove — its level of performance commensurate with the severity of the hazard. ASTM F1790 and EN388 cut test performance data can provide a useful indication of possible glove performance but is no substitute for actual use.

Thermal issues must address not only the temperature (heat/cold) to which the worker’s hands will be exposed, but the duration of exposure, and the weight and size of the object being handled.

Chemical hazards can be classified according to a variety of criteria, including the particular chemical involved, nature of threat (splash, immersion, etc.) and duration of exposure — of which the recommended hand/arm protection solution must address them all. Consult glove manufacturer’s chemical permeation data and technical support to determine the specific appropriateness of the selected glove.

The suitability of the solution to the potential risk, however, is not always straightforward and should not be understated. For example, wearing the wrong glove in the instance of accidental flash flame or hydrocarbon flash fire can increase skin damage. Traditional fiber gloves can accelerate the flame and melt to the skin — increasing long-term damaging effects, prolonging recovery and or permanently damaging workers’ hands. Instead, these work situations require safety gloves that are specifically recommended for use in industries such as oil and gas, petrochemical, maintenance, and manufacturing.

Additional hand protection needs to consider can include worker requirements regarding grip, dexterity, tactile sensitivity, and wrist protection.

For employees who may be exposed to several types of hazards in the course of their workday, the solution may not be a single best glove, but a combination of gloves, called double-gloving, to addresses the present risks. For example, a cut-esistant glove can be worn beneath a chemical resistant glove if both hazards are encountered.

Importance of comfort and fit

Unfortunately, no objective “fit test” for hand protection exists. Fit and comfort are intimately personal, dependent on a worker’s likes and dislikes as well as the design, material, feel, and ergonomics of the offered gloves.

If a worker’s protective gloves do not fit properly, then safety, comfort, dexterity and overall productivity can be affected. Workers can be distracted by uncomfortable gloves and may remove them altogether — resulting in zero protection for the employee.

 But poorly fitting gloves may also prove dangerous. An ill-fitting glove can cause the loss of grip on a ladder or a tool, or adversely affect dexterity and the handling of parts or equipment. An oversized glove or cuff has a greater chance of getting caught in moving parts on machinery. A too-tight glove or cuff may not only cause discomfort or promote fatigue but restrict a worker’s ability to pull their hand out of a glove that has become entrapped in a piece of equipment or an application. These are all serious potential safety hazards.

New options

Advanced materials and new ergonomic designs offer safety managers and workers new options for glove comfort, fit, maneuverability, and protection.  Many users are shunning heavy “one size fits all” cut and sewn leather and cotton gloves for modern coated knitted designs. Ergonomically-placed molded polyvinyl chloride (PVC) patches can optimize protection to the metacarpal and finger areas. Spandex fabric stretches easily to reduce hand fatigue. Hook and loop tab closures allow workers to adjust the glove’s cuff for a more comfortable and secure fit. Liners can offer relief in cold weather.

For safety managers, the solution is offering workers a choice of appropriate hand protection solutions. A comprehensive selection of suitable, properly-fitting, and comfortable quality work gloves should be available to employees so jobs can be performed both safely and effectively. Quality industrial gloves with construction and design elements that provide support beyond protection will help workers get their jobs done by enhancing grip, dexterity, and tactile sensitivity — and most importantly — stay safe.