The hand is one of the most complex parts of human body – the movement of the tendons, bones, tissues and nerves allows you to grip and do a wide variety of complex jobs. Without hands it would be extremely difficult to do routine, simple tasks such as opening doors, using a fork, or tying your shoes. Your hands make you a skilled, valuable worker and person.
A disabling hand injury can have a dramatic effect on your quality of life. A hand injury can impact not only on your ability to perform your job, but daily routines as well. A hand injury can occur in a second, but the social, financial and emotional effects can last a lifetime.
According to government and industry statistics, hand injuries represent nearly a third of all reported workplace incidents. Approximately 75 percent of industrial injuries that cause partial disability involve the hands – more than 16 million individuals seek emergency care each year for hand injuries.
Based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2006 data) nearly 205,000 injuries and illnesses to the wrists/hands/fingers involved days away from work in 2006; that is, 27 percent of the total for that year.
The incidence rate for hand injuries per 10,000 full time workers breaks down as follows: • All private industry = 29.6 • Manufacturing = 65.6 • Construction = 71.4
If you’re not convinced this is a topic importance, fine! Try to perform this ‘easy’ practical exercise then: 1. Tuck your thumbs into the palms of your hands 2. Now tie your shoes
It’s not so easy is it? Hands are important – this is a fact.
Safeguarding your hands
In order to build a proper hand injury prevention programme it is not enough to simply distribute protective gloves to all affected employees. This will not help. Before you establish a proper programme to prevent hand injuries, an employer has to understand the basic hierarchy of hazard control first.
Hierarchy of hazard control is a system used in industry to minimise or eliminate exposure to hazards. It is a widely accepted system promoted by numerous safety organisations. This concept is taught to managers in industry, to be promoted as standard practise in the workplace. Various illustrations are used to depict this system, most commonly a triangle.
The hierarchy of hazard controls, in order of effectiveness: 1. Elimination 2. Substitution 3. Engineering 4. Administration 5. Personal protective equipment (protective gloves in our case) which is actually the last line of defence
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has lowest effectiveness and overall, companies should work in the direction from the top to the bottom of the triangle to improve safety, and levels of protection of the workforce.
Elimination of the hazard is the most effective means of hazard control. It involves the physical removal of the hazard; for example, if employees are required to use aggressive chemicals to perform specific analysis, the best way is to eliminate a need to perform this type of analysis, or, if you replace it with an instrumental one, the hazard can then be eliminated.
PPE is the least effective way to control hazards. PPE can include gloves, respirators, hard hats, safety glasses, high visibility clothing, and safety footwear. PPE is the least effective means of controlling hazards because of the high potential for the PPE to become ineffective due to damage. Additionally, some PPE, such as respirators, increases physiological effort to complete a task and, therefore, requires medical examinations to ensure the worker can use the PPE without any detrimental risk to his or her own health.
The last control
Ok, we’ve tried other measures and are at the bottom of the triangle now. How do you select the right type of protective gloves?
Currently there are plenty of different types of protective gloves on the market as well as materials for gloves manufacturing (see below).
Let’s have a look at the potential hand hazards that exist for a specific worker or specific task. These things can be identified by undertaking a Job Safety Analysis or Job Risk Assessment.
Hazards to hands include: • Punctures to gloves • Extreme temperatures • Cuts • Pinch points • Chemicals • Rotating equipment • Bloodborne pathogens • Vibrating equipment
Potential consequences of the exposure to these hazards include: • Skin absorption of harmful substances • Severe cuts or lacerations • Severe abrasions • Punctures • Chemical burns • Thermal burns • Harmful temperature extremes
When choosing work gloves, reflect on the characteristics the work gloves should possess, rather than choosing one based on its price tag. This does not mean the price should not be considered at all, but rather know that buying quality gloves might cost a little more.
The material the work glove is manufactured from will also be a factor in determining how strong a work glove is, and how much protection it can offer you. This is reflected in the hazards a work glove will deal with, and is something to think about. For example, a latex disposable glove will be useless at offering hand protection when using chemicals with the potential to spill or splash. A stronger glove made of rubber material, or a leather work glove would be better.
Another factor to consider when choosing industrial work gloves is the type of work the glove is reserved for. A glove made of a material easily broken down, or not able to withstand wear and tear, would be of little value in the construction industry, where a pair of gloves made of a durable material would be better.
After conducting your Job Risk Assessment you may select the proper type of the protective gloves to tackle specific job or duty related hazard. The following recommendations can be used during gloves’ material selection: • Cotton – Light duty material handling and cleanup work • Leather – Equipment handling, general construction, heavy cleanup, welding, moderately hot or cold material handling • Shock absorbing – Operating rotary hammers and other vibrating equipment • Kevlar or wire mesh – Work with sheet metal, glass, or heavy cutting (these gloves do not provide puncture protection) • Rubber, nitrile, neoprene, PVC, PVA and other synthetics – Chemical gloves must be chosen for the specific chemical being used • Insulated – Extreme high and low temperatures
Handling of chemicals is one of the high risk activities requiring specific effort with protective gloves selection. Inappropriate selection, service, inspection and training of the end user on how to use PPE properly may result in unpleasant consequences for both sides – the employee and employer.
General resistance to the main groups of chemicals could be identified from the elements listed below: • Viton – Chlorinated and aromatic solvents • Butyl rubber – Aldehydes, ketones, and esters • Neoprene – Solvents, acids, caustics, and alcohols • Natural rubber (Latex) – Acids and caustics • Polyvinyl chloride – Acids, but not solvents
We have to understand that not all of the chemical resistant gloves materials are adequate and in some cases deeper study of the subject is required. For example, on the table below you may see some limitations for the chemical resistant gloves materials.
When you don’t know what kind of chemical mess your hands are getting into, reach for a pair of Nitrile work gloves. This synthetic glove offers ideal resistance to many hazardous chemicals and chemical solvents; resists cutting and punctures and provides flexibility. Nitrile gloves can handle a wide range of temperatures and protect against caustics, oils, kerosene, turpentine, greases, herbicides, pesticides, acids, naphtha and alcohol. These hard working gloves are used by farmers, landscapers, commercial cleaning people, painters and maintenance workers. Anybody, in other words, who wants to protect their hands from chemical attack.
Like all other items used for industrial protection, industrial safety work gloves have to be properly fitted to ensure maximum hand protection. When ordering your new work gloves, the measurement of your hand must be taken. To do this, place the measuring tape around widest part of the hand and record this measurement. The second measurement to take is the length of your hand. This measurement is achieved by measuring from the middle finger, which is usually the longest, to the beginning of the wrist.
Use these measurements to check the manufacturer’s recommendation on the size of glove to order. If your work glove will have special features such as knitted cuff, it is also a good idea to measure the circumference of your wrists as well. Overall there are lots of components that should be considered during the protective gloves’ selection process, and each element is equally important to ensure that the gloves give sufficient protection.
But again, gloves – as well as any other PPE – are the last line of defence according to hierarchy of hazard control, and their effectiveness remains limited and requires additional effort to control.
Make a change
If you are reading these lines I am sure that you should already have some clarity regarding which protective gloves and for which task should be used by your workers – but how do you implement this in reality? How do you change ‘normal’ working practise, which might have been established for years at some productions already?
Now it is time to make a change – and it might be that this stage is a most painful and complicated one, because it involves people’s behaviour, habits, perception and so on. Change is always uncomfortable for those who have to change. The implementation of protective gloves is a not an exception.
In order to make this process easier, the following steps would be taken:
1. Stress the topic or highlight the potential outcomes if no changes are made. Also outline the benefits for workers. The workforce should understand and genuinely feel there is something positive to gain from making the change.
2. Train people on how to select right size glove, how to use, inspect and maintain it in good condition, and how to dispose of it properly.
Protective gloves training should not be too complex, but has to include some main general points – see examples right. Hand injuries are one of the most frequently occurring injuries in the workplace.
Successful hand injury prevention requires your commitment, participation and communication.
Be alert – and make sure your workforce is – to the following factors:
• Most hand injuries occur when we stop thinking about safety; when we don’t accurately assess the risk; when we take shortcuts and circumvent procedures; when we don’t respect the potential hazards; or, when we lack awareness of the position of our hands
• Safety is a personal responsibility. Understand and respect the potential hazards; assess the risks for the tasks you perform
• Select the proper tools and protective equipment for the tasks you perform. Inspect them before each use and use them only for their intended purpose
• Remember to use extra precautions and maintain your focus when working around equipment. Lock and tag it out before removing guards or placing your hands in the point of operation
• Be aware of where your hands are at all times
• Communicate unsafe conditions and report all injuries to your supervisor
• You have a choice – don’t compromise your safety to save a few minutes. Respect the risk and keep your hands out of harm’s way
• Injuries occur because your hands were in the wrong place at the wrong time; don’t allow that to happen. You control the safety of your hands
• When properly selected and utilised, gloves can help reduce hand injuries. The wrong glove selection and use can also pose a hazard
• The wrong sized glove can cause extra stress on the hands. The wrong type can provide a false sense of protection, and used in the wrong situation can create a safety hazard
• Be familiar with the types of tasks you perform and the substances you may be exposed to. Gloves can provide protection against sharp objects, electrical burns, hot objects, chemical exposure and environmental elements
• Different types of gloves provide different types of protection. It is important you know the purpose and limitations of the gloves you use
• Once again, gloves should not be used around equipment and machinery where they can get caught and pull your hand in
• Inspect gloves before each use for wear, cracks and other signs of defects that may inhibit the protection they provide you. Be familiar with their care and storage requirements
• Contact with chemicals can cause burns, rashes and skin irritation. Use the right glove for the chemical hazards you are exposed to; the container label and Material Safety Data Sheet can provide valuable information for proper selection
• To remove contaminated gloves, use your thumb and forefinger to roll down the top of one of the gloves an inch or two. Next, remove the other glove. Use your bare hand, touching only the non-contaminated rolled down portion, to remove the other glove
• Properly decontaminate and store or dispose of the gloves and wash your hands
Ensure you provide staff with the facilities to observe these points and, in addition, try the following approach to help introduce change to the workplace:
1. Schedule a trial for a small group (e.g. for one crew) and make sure that date, length, location, goals, and expectations of the evaluation or trial is clear, so you may see results for a specific date.
2. Collect and analyse together with a departmental team trial outcomes from testing crew.
3. Make a change or correction into programme if needed, based on the feedback if feasible.
4. Get confirmation and approval or agreement from testing crew about protective glove application – this is one of the best ways to share the importance and benefits of protective gloves with all workers.
It does not really matter if you’re in the construction industry, agricultural business, or a related field, you need heavy duty work gloves to provide protection to your hands. Industrial work gloves can provide a safeguard against cuts, abrasions and other potential injuries. Make sure you buy the appropriate industrial work gloves suitable for your needs.
Published: 22nd Apr 2013 in Health and Safety International