Think about the following statements and whether you believe they are true or false.

1. My company operates in a very competitive industry.

2. Excellence in health and safety is the mark of a well-run company.

3. It is important to manage the numerous risks my company faces and work to focus and refine our health and safety efforts.

Of course, each of these three statements is true. Developing a strong safety culture can have the single greatest impact on accident reduction of any program.

Let’s face it. As companies in the industrial sector, we and/or our employees face risk on the jobsite every day. It’s inherent in our very business. As such, we know we must focus on government regulations and compliance, and we must understand what rules apply to us and have systems in place to assure that we are in compliance.

Another equally important element to developing a safety culture includes risk identification, assessment and control. This means regularly identifying the risks that the business faces, assessing the potential impacts that could occur and making sure that systems are in place to minimize or control the impact of the risk.

The third element is a commitment to continuous improvement. This means that we will use systems and processes that measure our safety performance so that we can see where we need to make improvements and we can measure the pace of our improvements.

Because so many safety activities focus on government regulations, many well-intentioned safety managers spend much of their time nagging others about complying with minimum safety standards. A true safety leader keeps his eye on the ultimate goal — keeping employees safe and healthy — and employs enthusiasm, commitment and knowledge to achieving that goal.

The real benefit of a safety program comes when it is not so much a “program” but a way of life at the company and ingrained as part of the culture.

If you give somebody a hand, make sure there is a glove on it.

Being in the glove business, we focus on those three critical components of developing a safety culture and apply them specifically to hand and arm protection.

Statistics bear out the importance of hand and arm protection as part of a safety culture. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 250,000 serious injuries to fingers, hands and wrists each year. In a recent year, nearly 8,000 of these were amputations. Obviously someone didn’t pay attention to the break room safety poster “Those Precious Fingers Don’t Ignore or They Could End Up on the Floor.”

Glove wearing and government regulation, risk assessment and continuous improvement

On the government regulation side, OSHA certainly has guidelines, rules and regulations that prescribe the appropriate hand protection for employees whose “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.”

OHSA is spot on: glove wearing is one of the most effective hand protection safety programs a company can have. In fact, wearing any glove reduces the risk of hand injury by 27 percent.

Most of us in the industry have heard the phrase “the right glove for the task.” This gets to the heart of the risk assessment. Most manufacturers have programs to help you assess the workplace risks and determine the proper glove usage.

Sometimes, glove-wearing gets tricky for employees who multi-task. They 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. An example of this 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.

What we have found is that if workers are raising objections to glove wearing, they may not be wearing a glove best suited for the work they are doing. Safety officers are challenged to really listen to employee objections and concerns and show them solutions that work. For instance, “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,” may indicate the worker is wearing the wrong glove.

The good news from manufacturers is that innovations introduced over the last several years have greatly improved the performance characteristics of most gloves. Today’s workplace gloves are both comfortable and protective. Now gloves feature lighter coatings, greater dexterity, touch sensitivity, and oil absorbency for grip. These new products essentially eliminate old excuses for taking off the gloves because the job is too difficult with gloves on. Dare we say these new gloves are even getting a reputation for being “cool” to wear.

Safety is a full-time job; don’t make it a part-time practice.

Throughout it all, education is key. Inattention is a huge contributor to workplace injuries, so it is important to continually remind workers of the risks associated with a task and to challenge them to pay attention. Employees need to know if glove wearing is mandatory all of the time. If it is, the education is simple. However, if glove wearing is not required for some tasks, employees need to know what those tasks are. So be sure to give them details of exemptions from glove wearing.

Communication, including face-to-face meeting and training, behavior modeling and posters and brochures, are important components for getting the word out. Here are some tips:

  1. Create worker information sheets that make hand protection protocols understandable.
  2. Establish a safety board that includes members from all stakeholder groups in the organization from the factory floor to the executive suite.
  3. Train workers on hand protection, including glove selection, glove storage and techniques for testing previously worn hand protection to be certain it is still effective.
  4. Make it easy for workers to obtain the proper hand protection for their specific tasks through convenient glove stocking and intuitive labeling.
  5. Use every internal communication vehicle available to you to promote hand protection, including glove boards, break room posters and table tents, brochures, training videos, etc.

A company with a strong safety culture typically experiences fewer at-risk behaviors; consequently they also experience low accident rates, low turnover, low absenteeism and high productivity. They are usually companies that are extremely successful by excelling in all aspects of business. Back to those break room posters, “Safety fits like a glove; Try one on!”