Each year hand and finger injuries typically cause more than one million US workers to visit a hospital for medical treatment. In 2008 alone, there were 137,020 Days Away From Work Cases in the US as a direct result of work-related hand and finger injuries.
The hand is very vulnerable to injury because it by necessity the body part that causes the work to be done. In a 30 year old study by the US Bureau of Labour Statistics it was determined that 70% of workers who experienced hand injuries were not wearing gloves ( ).
The remaining 30% of injured workers did wear gloves but still experienced injuries because the gloves were inadequate, damaged, or wrong for the type of hazard present. US BLS statistics show that the incident rate of hand and finger injuries have actually increased over the past 15 years. In 1994 the DAFWC incident rate was 12.3 per 10,000 workers. In 2008 it was 14.4.
This 17% increase has occurred despite the regulatory efforts to improve enforcement, the glove industry’s efforts to develop glove standards, the manufacturer’s efforts to improve their hand protection devices, and the employer programs to improve worker behaviours.
“The remaining 30% of injured workers did wear gloves but still experienced injuries because the gloves were inadequate, damaged, or wrong for the type of hazard present.”
The United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) mandates the use of hand protection in the US. Their regulatory standard is straightforward:
• 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.
This regulation is simply stated and is relatively easy to comply with – however, it’s clear from the increasing incident rates that compliance does not by itself translate into a safe work environment. The purpose of this article is to provide advice for the HSE Manager to reduce hand injuries at their worksite.
“it’s clear from the increasing incident rates that compliance does not by itself translate into a safe work environment”
Work Place Hazards to Hand Safety
Hazards to the hands that commonly exist in the work place include: punctures, extreme temperatures, cuts, pinch points, chemical exposure, rotating equipment, blood-borne pathogens, vibrating equipment, insect bites, crushing, burns, frostbite, abrasion, and biohazards. Developments in materials and fibre technologies have allowed a whole new generation of gloves that provide greater protection and durability, yet are much less bulky than traditional materials like leather and cotton. The types of gloves that might be required in the work place are as follows:
• Friction reducing Cotton & String Knits
• Open Fingers for Sensitivity
• Cut Resistant Steel Mesh
• Heat Resistant
• Wear Resistant Leather
• Extreme Cold
• Chemical Resistant
• Palm Coated
• Single Use Disposable
• Clean Room
• Electrical Insulating
• Baker’s Mitts and Pads
• Impact Resistant
“Developments in materials and fiber technologies have allowed a whole new generation of gloves that provide greater protection and durability, yet are much less bulky than traditional materials like leather and cotton.”
Do Gloves REALLY Work?
Some workers apparently believe that once they have donned a sturdy pair of leather gloves they have been transformed into Superman and have fingers of steel. This observation is made because instead of using a tag line they grab onto a swinging five ton steel H beam that is being hoisted onto a flat bed trailer. Unfortunately, reality quickly returns when their fingers get crushed. Did the gloves help reduce the severity of this injury or did the gloves actually contribute to this incident by giving a false sense of security? An interesting study ( ) addressing this question determined that, yes, gloves do in fact reduce injuries .
However, the answer is not that simple. The authors determined that glove use was associated with a 60 to 70% lower risk of lacerations and punctures but wearing gloves had no measurable reduction in incidents related to crushing, fractures, or amputations. This should come as no surprise: gloves will not the lower risk of sustaining injuries in which the energy transferred to the hand exceeds the physical properties of the glove. The study concluded that proper glove use is only one component of a comprehensive hand injury prevention approach that includes the identification and elimination of hazards, engineering and administrative controls, safety warnings, training in high-risk situation awareness, and proper selection and timing of glove use.
“Some workers apparently believe that once they have donned a sturdy pair of leather gloves they have been transformed into Superman and have fingers of steel.”
Glove use may also have unwanted side effects such as requiring increased muscle forces to maintain a secure grip, snagging on equipment and on occasion may contribute to an injury by being caught in machinery and pulling the hand into a pinch point. Workers clearly need to understand the limitations of the gloves they wear. A glove does not make them Superman.
Selection – The 3XFit Criteria
The three most critical factors when selecting gloves are: Fit, Fit and Fit. This is to say:
• The glove must Fit the hand
• The glove must Fit the purpose of the work, and
• The glove must Fit the budget
Pullout: The three most critical factors when selecting gloves are: Fit, Fit and Fit.
Manufacturers produce thousands of styles of gloves. While this means workers have the potential to be more protected than ever it also makes the HSE Manager’s job of selecting the appropriate type of gloves to stock more complicated. This challenge should be viewed as an opportunity rather than a threat. Employers know it is their obligation to protect workers from the hazards in the workplace.
Once engineering controls have been used to completely eliminate a hazard or administrative controls have been used to keep workers away from the hazard there likely are still circumstances that result in workers being directly exposed to residual hazards. This is when it is essential to require gloves as personal protective equipment.
An excellent resource for glove selection is ANSI/ISEA 105-2005, American National Standard/ International Safety Equipment Association’s Hand Protection Selection Criteria. In Europe the European Norm, EN 388 is available. Both standards provide a consistent, numeric-scale method with which manufacturers can rate their products against certain contaminants and exposures including puncture and abrasion resistance, chemical permeation and degradation, detection of holes, and heat and flame resistance.
These standards provide a firm basis for glove selection which is required by OSHA Hand Protection and European regulations. HSE Managers and Buyers should confirm that gloves have been manufacturer-tested according to these standards and can quickly narrow their choices to fit a specific application and budget.
“HSE Managers and Buyers should confirm that gloves have been manufacturer-tested according to these standards and can quickly narrow their choices to fit a specific application and budget.”
Additionally, it is beneficial to involve workers in the selection process. Workers will tend to use the gloves properly, more frequently, and take better care of them if they have ownership in their procurement.
“Workers will tend to use the gloves properly, more frequently, and take better care of them if they have ownership in their procurement.”
Training of workers who use hand protection is a regulatory requirement usually met by providing a standard training module to new workers upon their initial employment or upon their assignment to a job that requires the use of PPE. A typical class is two hours in duration, addresses the range of PPE required at the facility, and details the following topics:
• When PPE is necessary; What PPE is necessary; How to obtain PPE
• How to properly don, doff, adjust, and wear PPE
• Limitations of the PPE
• Proper care, inspection, maintenance, useful life, and disposal of the PPE
• Physical demonstration of understanding by the worker
This induction-level training must be recognized for its general nature and as not being adequate for all situations that can arise in a work place. For example, individuals who perform metal cutting, who work with hazardous chemicals or who have exposures beyond the general worker level require training specific to their tasks. The situations and types of workers which require more than induction-level training should be clearly specified in the HSE Training Program.
Job Site Assessment of Risk
Selection of hand protection equipment for a specific task must begin with a thorough understanding of the task to be performed. This is typically referred to as a Job Safety Analysis (JSA). The JSA occurs prior to initiation of work. A standardized form should be used that requires the job to be broken down into components. This analysis must be led by the supervisor with input from the crew that will perform the actual work.
It is useful for a safety specialist to periodically support the discussion to assure the process is thorough. This analysis results in identification of the hazards presented by the work, the frequency of these hazards, and the means to mitigate the resulting risks.
The importance of involving the work crew in developing the JSA cannot be overemphasized. Their experience in performing the work is critical and adds valuable perspective not only to identify the risks but to the means of mitigating the risks.
Their practical knowledge of worksite conditions, the tools available, the pace of the work and the standards to which the work will be performed all play a part in defining how the work must be conducted to assure the safety of all personnel. An important peripheral benefit of involving the work crew is that it provides an opportunity for job-site refresher training in the proper use of specific eye protection devices. Not all workers have the same levels of knowledge and experience.
Some may have received only induction level training while others may have gained significant knowledge of appropriate PPE from years of practical use, incidents they experiences, near misses by others. The JSA allows an on-the-job forum to share this knowledge and experience and integrate it with the anticipated work.
Influencing Worker Behaviors
The common behaviours that result in hand injuries can be mitigated by following these rules:
• Wear the proper PPE
• Avoid Pinch Points
• Stay out of the Line of Fire
• Never touch or stand beneath a hoisted object
• Stop the job when conditions are not favorable
• Do not use equipment you have not been trained to use
• Use tools to handle live parts and rigging
• Never use homemade tools
• Consider time, weather and lighting while working
• Comply with the MSDS
• Take frequent breaks from vibrating equipment and repetitive tasks
• Eliminate distractions
• Maintain good housekeeping
• Replace worn gloves
• Use proper ergonomics
• Remove rings and jewelry from hands prior to entering the worksite.
• Avoid moving parts
• Never cut towards yourself
• Never use any machine or tool on which the guarding has been modified
Unsafe acts and unsafe conditions cause injuries. Providing PPE of any type is recognized as the last line of defense for worker protection. If a glove does not meet the 3XFit criteria (see above) then it will not achieve the intended purpose. Of primary importance in hand protection is getting the worker to wear his/her gloves while performing all tasks that pose risks.
Fit and comfort are critical in this regard because a worker won’t wear something that is uncomfortable, keeps slipping off his/her hand, interferes with their dexterity, or inhibits their movements. If the gloves they are provided have these issues the user will remove them at every chance there is – which immediately opens the door to an incident. Another unsafe condition that is recognized as an immediate cause of an incident is the condition of the glove itself. For this reason it is beneficial to make it easy for workers to replace gloves when they become worn and damaged.
“an unsafe condition that is recognized as an immediate cause of an incident is the condition of the glove itself. For this reason it is beneficial to make it easy for workers to replace gloves when they become worn and damaged.”
Finally, style is becoming increasingly important among workers, and stylish PPE can tip the scale toward reducing injuries. Gloves tend to be ahead of most other PPE in terms of style. Leading glove manufacturers are taking cues from the retail clothing and performance athletic clothing markets to develop trendy, yet functional styles that workers want to wear.
Gloves do afford protection against sharp edges, chemicals, minor nicks, bruises, cuts, etc., however, ultimately, the individual must protect his own hands by thinking about what he is doing with them and where he is putting them.
“style is becoming increasingly important among workers, and stylish PPE can tip the scale toward reducing injuries. Gloves tend to be ahead of most other PPE in terms of style.”
Responsibilities of Leaders
The only two things standing between a hazard to the hand and an injury is a thin layer of material and the behaviours of the worker. There is no single type of glove that can prevent all hand injuries and no glove will prevent an injury if it is not worn. Any type of careless behaviour can result in a serious injury. It is the challenge of management to assure that workers are actually using the hand protection that is provided them and their behaviours promote safety for everyone.
The management team must put in place a comprehensive hand protection program based on compliance with regulations. However, regulations are not sufficiently prescriptive to achieve a zero incident rate. Site supervisors and shop foremen have direct responsibility for their crews to follow safe practices but their efforts will be greatly enhanced if they are visibly supported by management.
Management’s adoption of best practices (see side bar) can serve to provide this support. Corporate culture plays a big role in the success of a safety program. The leadership team must clearly perceive the value in a safety program, must consistently demonstrate that it has zero tolerance of unsafe practices, and must continually strive to improve safety performance.
Ideas for Leaders to Improved Hand Protection
• At your next Safety Talk ask the audience to unbutton a shirt button without using their thumb. The simple self-demonstration sends a clear message about the value of the thumb and the importance of a protecting the hand.
• Conduct a formal survey of plant operations and activities: review hand incident reports, injury reports, job safety analysis reports, insurance claims, job site interviews, and near-miss reports to identify areas that present hazards to hands. Implement corrective actions for each finding.
• Review the inventory of gloves in the warehouse. Determine which types are being used, which types aren’t being used and why there is a difference.
• Establish a team to review site-wide machine guarding practices, the lockout/tag out procedures, and potential pinch points and sharp edges. Ensure corrective action is taken with regard to the findings. Incorporate the findings in revised safe work procedures and safety training programs.
• Recognize that many hand injuries occur due to the worker’s lack of awareness, boredom, complacency, fatigue from repetitive tasks, disregard of safety procedures, and being distracted from the job task. It’s management’s job to prevent these situations from occurring. Consider: redesigning the work flow, rotation of personnel between jobs, fit the personnel to the challenge, provide interesting training programs, and ensure judicial use of disciplinary action.
• Redesign work processes to completely avoid employee exposure to hazardous machines or hazardous work environments. Redesign is a better solution than providing PPE.
• Implement behavioural based safety programs to encourage positive behaviours and to eliminate safety hazards.
• Utilize a buddy system or mentoring approach for new workers until they are skilled enough to work safely at full productivity levels.
• Tag new workers with green safety helmets to allow experienced workers to monitor their behaviours more closely.
David W Moore, is a health, safety and environmental advisor living on Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA. Mr. Moore holds a BSc and an MSc in Chemical Engineering, both from Georgia Tech. He has 38 years of experience in the US domestic and international oil and gas industry. In the past several years Mr. Moore provided significant onsite HSE leadership to the China West to East Pipeline Project (Gansu Province), the BTC Pipeline Project (Erzincan, Turkey) and the Tangguh LNG Plant Project (West Papua, Indonesia). He can be contacted at: [email protected]
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Published: 01st May 2010 in Health and Safety Middle East