Workers raise all type of objections, from the age-old “I can do a better job without gloves” to “Gloves get in the way of good grip” or “Wearing gloves makes my hands sweaty and slippery.” Statements such as “Cut-resistant sleeves are awkward” can also be commonplace. In the field, we see instances where workers have modified gloves by removing the fingers, wrapped their hands with tape or bandaging leaving their fingers free or set their gloves aside entirely. All of these actions, although taken to improve job performance, put the workers’ hands at risk.
Safety officers are challenged to both understand worker concerns and enforce best personal protection equipment (PPE) practices. Fortunately with the many task-specific glove models available today, most objections to glove wearing can be overcome through an assessment that matches workplace glove needs with the appropriate hand protection product. In many cases, employees who rebel against glove wearing are being required to wear a glove that is not best suited for the work they are doing.
It is always a good idea for the person in charge of PPE to put himself or herself into the “gloves” of the employee to better understand objections to the status quo glove situation and make better informed purchasing decisions. The last thing an employer wants is employees who feel uncomfortable or hindered by an inappropriate glove.
OSHA on Gloves
OSHA puts appropriate glove selection squarely in the court of the employer with two regulations:
1910.138(a): General requirements. 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.
1910.138(b): Selection. Employers shall base the selection of the appropriate hand protection on an evaluation of the performance characteristics of the hand protection relative to the task(s) to be performed, conditions present, duration of use, and the hazards and potential hazards identified.
To meet both the demands of compliance and worker comfort, along with an overall PPE glove assessment (usually provided by a representative of a glove manufacturing firm), safety officers should address the following:
• Glove and sleeve fit
• Dexterity vs. safety
• Hand and arm comfort
Fit comes first
Fit is key to worker comfort — both in gloves and sleeves. Employers must not only find gloves with desired performance properties but also determine which glove size is right for the individual. To determine proper fit, measure the circumference of the hand around the palm or at the base of the metacarpals. The number of inches will help determine the correct size:
< 7 inches = Extra Small
7.5 inches = Small
8 inches = Medium
9 inches = Large
10 inches = Extra Large
> 10.5 inches = Extra Extra Large
Similarly, workers’ arms should be measured to find the proper sleeve length when cut-resistant sleeves are required on the job.
Dexterity vs. safety
Today glove manufacturers are producing gloves — even cut-resistant gloves — that provide more and more dexterity. With the evolution of the engineered yarn, manufacturers are engineering cut-resistant gloves to be thinner and thinner while achieving higher and higher cut-resistance ratings. Cut-resistant fibers are also being combined with polyester fibers to achieve a softer feel. In many cases, a core fiber is wrapped with a softer-touch fiber for a cool, soft-feel, ergonomic design. Today’s engineered fibers work in concert with the mid-nineties introduction of seamless glove knitting technology to take cut-resistant glove comfort to new highs.
Grip, particularly oily or wet grip, has been a key target of glove manufacturer research over the past decade. The result is that there are literally dozens of glove models designed specifically to provide grip under any number of circumstances. Many of these gloves have a sponge nitrile coating that is modified to provide specific grip qualities. For example, some coatings provide maximum grip while others are engineered with a grip and release characteristic. Workers concerns about grip should be allayed with proper glove selection from one of these newer products.
No more hot hands
Employees who point out that their hands feel hot may need a different glove model than the one they are currently wearing. Today many gloves are manufactured with ventilation holes to address this issue. In addition, the liner fabric of the glove can make a huge difference in worker comfort. For example, gloves with a cotton liner base are generally cooler to wear than those built on a synthetic fiber base. The widespread use of palm or ¾ dipping of gloves that are coated also results in gloves that are cooler to wear as contrasted with fully coated models.
Listen to your employees
Making employees comfortable with their hand protection requires listening to their concerns and showing them solutions that work. Employees who multi-task may need multiple forms of hand protection. Often, double- or triple-glove wearing is appropriate for workers who need heavy protection for some tasks and less protection for others. One example would be a worker who needs the lightweight protection of a disposable glove for most tasks but needs the option of wearing a heavy-duty chemical resistant glove or cut-resistant glove over the disposable glove for other tasks.
Throughout it all, education is key. If glove wearing is mandatory all of the time, education is simple. However, if glove wearing is not required for some tasks, employees need to know what those tasks are. Give them details of exemptions from glove wearing.
Some employers use incentives for groups of workers who go through a specified period of time with no glove wearing rule infractions. This helps get employees working together to achieve the prize. It also increases glove-wearing awareness and opens the door for workers to urge one another to follow the rules.
In the end, the goal is to keep workers safe, happy and productive with the right hand protection. The answers are there; all it takes is a solid assessment of both PPE needs and employee concerns.