In a perfect world, it would be possible to avoid hand injuries simply by purchasing gloves and asking employees to wear them. But nothing is that easy. Effective hand protection requires a more systematic and comprehensive approach.

Understand the risks
A look at the following categories of hazards makes it easy to understand why gloves alone do not provide adequate protection:
  • Chemical hazards including toxic, corrosive, allergenic, irritating, sensitizing and carcinogenic effects.
  • Biological hazards including infectious and allergenic responses.
  • Physical contact hazards including pinches, crushing, abrasions, cuts, radiation, heat/cold, electricity and other forms of energy, etc.
  • Strain hazards including repetition, forceful exertions, pressure contact etc.
The first phase: Develop your P&P
If you have frequent injuries related to lack of hand protection, you need to immediately assess the situation and remove any barriers to the use of hand protection. A comprehensive and systematic approach begins with a written personal protective equipment (PPE) policy & procedure (P&P) approved by senior management.

Here are some key elements of an effective P&P:

1—Policy statement. This defines the overall purpose of your P&P including legislative compliance and employee protection. It also identifies those to whom the policy applies including employees and contractors and explains what will be done and by whom to ensure hand protection.

2—Specific actions required by each level of the organization. These are the steps required to achieve the policy objectives.

3—Organization-wide risk assessment and determination of PPE requirements. This step deals with the identification and evaluation of hand risks present in each job.

4—Guidelines for PPE selection and use requirements (or control of hazards).

5—Means of review, ongoing support, auditing and evaluation of the P&P at least annually.

Other elements of the P&P can include references, record keeping, health evaluation, storage, definitions and training guidance.

The next phase: Risk assessment
The following steps will enable you to conduct the risk assessment according to your policy:

1—Acquire complete, accurate descriptions of every task for each job in your organization.

2—With the aid of a person who regularly performs the job, identify all potential hand hazards.

3—Prioritize by rating the seriousness and probability of each hazard.

4—Identify the necessary gloves as well as actions to be taken, such as selecting safer tools, improving work methods etc., in order of priority.

Consider the “personal” part of PPE:
Gloves must offer dexterity, flexibility, comfort, fit and tactile sensitivity. Hands come in all sizes, so be sure sizes range from extra small to extra large.

Always conduct trials with new gloves and get input from a cross section of users before purchase decisions are made. Formulation of a PPE team for large scale analysis and decisions can work well.

Because of potential allergic reactions, use nonpowdered, non-latex gloves whenever possible. Powder was originally put in gloves to aid with donning and is not needed anymore with new materials

Consider the “protective” part of PPE:
Look for specifics regarding chemical and biological breakthrough when selecting glove material — viral penetration should meet ASTM standards. Build in a safety factor when applying the breakthrough time to a change out schedule. For example, recent research indicates that breakthrough times should be reduced to account for hand movement during use. Hand movement is not part of the material chemicals breakthrough measurement process.

Consider the quality of the glove, not just the cost. Thickness does not tell the whole story. Tensile strength is the maximum pressure a glove material can take without tearing. Elongation is the percentage of stretch without tearing. Both are indicators of durability and the ability of a glove to stand up to stressful hand movements or contacts.

Always inspect gloves before use (test rubber or synthetic gloves by inflating them). Ensure that fingernails are well trimmed and no rings are worn under gloves. And whenever possible, keep gloves at the point of use to ensure they are readily available.

Other considerations
Having too many different gloves can lead to confusion and unnecessary expense. Our organization actually saved significant money by standardizing to two types of exam gloves offering better quality.

Be aware that gloves may actually introduce hazards. Know when not to wear gloves, such as around the danger zone of high speed machinery. Glove substitutes such as barrier creams may work in some cases.

Many hand injuries occur because of unexpected hand contacts which may have been overlooked during hazard assessments. Make sure employees know to keep their hands out of the line of fire of moving objects and within a clear path of travel when they are moving around the facility.

Finally, don’t assume. Perform hands-on audits that include an assessment of whether or not the personal and protective elements mentioned above are in place. Train employees in glove use, especially when new products are brought in. Preach hand protection in the home as well as at work because home injuries affect work performance. Address potential reasons for not wanting to wear gloves, and always include managers and supervisors in every step of the process.