So, you're supposed to be the glove expert in your company. Sounds like a simple enough task - after all, you're a pro. But the reality is that there are more than 1,100 glove styles to choose from to find the perfect protection.

And still, too many workers are not outfitted with the best glove for the job. This costs an employer money - in comp claims, downtime and even the loss of ability of a good employee.

The right safety gloves protect workers from injuries such as hand lacerations, chemical burns, heat burns, hand fatigue, punctures, abrasion injuries and even severed fingers. An employer can ill-afford to offer incorrect protection or risk having its workers not wear the gloves.

Bearing responsibility

Thirteen percent of all workplace incidents are injuries to hands and fingers. The average cost of these claims is $7,222 per employee, according to the 2001 edition of Injury Facts from the National Safety Council. People get hurt even if they are wearing gloves - when they are the wrong gloves.

These facts only reinforce the important role that safety directors, managers and supervisors play when selecting appropriate hand protection for their employees. You are responsible, but there is help. First, review the OSHA standard (Personal Protective Equipment Standard, 29 CFR 1910.132, OSHA's Occupational Hand Protection Standard, 1910.138), which requires:

  • "Employers shall select and require employees to use appropriate hand protection when employees' hands are exposed to hazards such as those from skin absorption of harmful substances; severe cuts or lacerations; severe abrasions; punctures; chemical burns; thermal burns; and harmful temperature extremes."

  • "Selection. Employers shall base the selection of the appropriate hand protection on an evaluation of the performance characteristics of the hand protection relative to task(s) to be performed, conditions present, duration of use and the hazards and potential hazards identified."

    While these guidelines are straightforward, it is clear that the employer bears the responsibility for selecting the "appropriate" hand protection - meaning hand protection that works. In fact, the employer is personally and legally responsible for choosing the right gloves.

    Playing matchmaker

    The key to ensure that workers have the right protection, and actually wear it, is to match the gloves with the job and to the hands that wear them. You have to think about both. Are chemicals being used? What is the length of time the worker is exposed to the chemicals, or to heat or abrasion? While most safety professionals are well versed in the hazards that gloves can affect, this is only the first step toward providing workers with hand protection that is both reliable and suitable for their needs. It is necessary to delve into the glove's construction, usage and applicability to specific work environments to maximize work-glove protection.

    Chances are your glove supplier has dealt with hand protection issues that are common to your workplace. Distributors that specialize in safety have a wealth of information that can help you select hand protection for your employees to provide the right balance of protection, comfort and usability. Use the free advice they'll give you. To get started, prepare to answer the questions they'll ask, such as:

    • What do you manufacture?
    • What exactly are your workers handling, and how much?
    • What kinds of injuries are you seeing repeatedly, and exactly where on the hand do they occur?
    • If you are using gloves that aren't doing the job, which gloves are they?
    • Were your gloves selected specifically for the application that is causing the injuries?

    If your glove supplier is asking you detailed questions like these, chances are you're moving toward solving your injury problem. Plus, you can get excellent, detailed and free technical information about the gloves they offer. This is especially important if you have a new process using chemicals you haven't worked with before. Don't be shy about asking for it.

    Know what's new

    New features and glove materials hit the market all the time. Advanced synthetic materials can maximize dexterity, while features like the addition of a ballistic Kevlar stitched onto leather gloves can greatly improve resistance to both cuts and heat, as well as add significantly to the lifespan of the glove. New combinations of knitted shells dipped with cut- or slip-resistant compounds are adding comfort and improved feel that workers appreciate.

    Training and encouraging employees to use safety gloves is an ongoing process. So is keeping up with the advances in gloves that will make your safety program more successful.

    While it may be challenging to find the "perfect glove," it isn't hard to find help with the search. Use your distributor. They've already done most of your homework for you.

    SIDEBAR: Glove Guide

    Matching the glove to the job at hand (no pun intended) is key. Here are some general guidelines:

    • Disposable gloves offer both hand and product protection for one-time, non-strenuous use.
    • Ventilated gloves offer coolness and comfort.
    • Insulated gloves are used for hot and cold work.
    • Thin-gauged, smooth-finished gloves give tactile sensitivity and extra dexterity.
    • Rough-finished or embossed gloves offer a strong, non-slip grip.
    • Lightweight coated gloves offer resistance to liquid.
    • Heavyweight coated gloves offer chemical and abrasion resistance.
    • Thicker-gauged, supported gloves give snag, puncture and abrasion resistance.