Dexterity needed on the job must be taken into account in glove selection, especially if workers are removing their gloves to complete high-dexterity tasks. (HexArmor photo)

Hand Safety Matters

When you begin a glove trial, it is important to consider as many application-specific issues as possible.

Workplace hand injuries are a leading cause of lost workdays and emergency room visits around the globe. From minor to life-threatening and everything in between, these injuries can be costly to employers and life-changing for employees.

Besides the obvious physical harm to workers, hand injuries also take a financial toll. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Safety Council, U.S. workers sustain about 110,000 lost time hand injuries every year. In 2009-10, the cost per injury, including medical and indemnity, was $21,918. Hand injuries across all industries result in an average five to 11 days away from work, not counting rehabilitation.

Most hand injuries are preventable. BLS reports that on-the-job hand injuries result in more than 1 million emergency room visits in the United States each year. Among those who are injured, 70 percent of workers report they were not wearing gloves at the time the incident occurred. That's 700,000 hand injuries that could have been prevented or reduced with proper hand protection.

While glove use is not the only way to protect against hand injuries, the right hand PPE is a crucial component of any safety program. Introducing a hand safety program that your employees buy into can go a long way toward creating a safer and more productive work environment.

There are many types of gloves available today to protect against a wide variety of hazards. The nature of the hazard and the operation involved affects the selection of gloves. Because gloves designed for one function may not protect well against another, it is essential that workers use gloves designed for the hazards and tasks found in their workplace.

But how do you know you're using the right gloves? Field testing is the best method to evaluate your options, and involving employees in the process of glove selection can go a long way toward worker buy-in.

Field Testing: Six Steps for a Successful Glove Trial
A glove trial is the process of field-testing different models of safety gloves, in order to identify the best glove for a particular job. When done correctly, the benefits of a glove trial include:

  • Improved hand safety program and equipment
  • Reduced rate of hand injuries
  • Increased awareness of hand safety issues among workers
  • Higher rates of compliance with hand safety PPE requirements
  • Reduction in costs related to hand injuries

Step One: Assess the Hazards and Work Environment
When you begin a glove trial, it is important to consider as many application-specific issues as possible. Answer these questions in detail:

  • What hazards are present? Do a thorough assessment and make a list of all existing and potential hazards. These may include metal, glass, wood, sawing or cutting tools, blades or knives, wire, needles, hammers, scaffolding joints, pipes, insulation, connections, etc. Are there cut hazards in the form of long, sharp edges? What about possible pinch and smash injuries from dropped tools?
  • How much protection is needed? Gloves may need to be cut level 5 to provide sufficient protection, or you may only need a cut level 4 or less. If there are impact hazards, you'll need a glove with back-of-hand impact protection. Some applications require heat resistance, anti-vibration padding, or chemical exposure protection.
  • How much dexterity is required? Do your workers require a high level of tactile sensitivity in order to do their jobs? Will they be picking up small parts or handling sheets of plywood or steel beams? Dexterity needed on the job must be taken into account in glove selection, especially if workers are removing their gloves to complete high-dexterity tasks.
  • Where is the job being performed? Identify details of the environment where your employees are doing the majority of their work. What is the climate? Is excessively hot or cold? Does the environment change based on the season, or does it stay fairly constant throughout the year?
  • Are there potential grip issues? Grip can be affected by mud, oils, cleaning fluids and other workplace substances. Poor grip can lead to increased hazards from dropped tools and knives, in addition to increased fatigue and strain.
  • What is the temperature of materials being handled? Do workers regularly handle tools or parts that are extremely hot or cold? This can affect glove properties such as grip, protection level, and durability.
  • Are there any corrosive materials? Consider whether there are fluids such as solvent or acids present that could break down the glove fibers or coating.

Step Two: Identify the Most Common Applications
The key to finding the right glove for the job is to look at the applications and tasks that are representative of most of the work being done. Select a glove that offers the necessary levels of comfort, protection, and dexterity for the most common, day-to-day tasks.

Although it is tempting to look for a one-glove-solution, the reality is that a single glove can almost never meet all needs. If you outfit your entire workforce with a glove that is suited only to the easiest job, or the most hazardous, or the application that only occurs once a week or once a month, it may provide too little protection--or too much--for the work they’re doing every day. This will have a negative impact on glove compliance, safety outcomes, and the overall effectiveness of your hand PPE program.

If necessary, offer a different glove for use with an extreme or unusual task. Most of the time it is best for workers, and for your hand safety program, to use a glove that offers the right level of protection for the work performed most often.

Step Three: Audit Your Current Glove Program
An audit of your existing glove policy will help you understand what is working, what isn't, and areas where improvement is needed. Learn what your employees like about the gloves they use now. Find out where the glove isn't meeting their needs. Identify any trade-offs between a new glove and the old.

By collecting this information, you can work to ensure that the trade-offs are minimized and that new gloves used in the trial offer the same features that your work crews have become accustomed to. You can address any objection that may come up during the trial, selection, and implementation process.

Step Four: Select Your Trial Crew
Choose people for the trial crew who are serious about safety on the job and who will provide honest and constructive feedback about the gloves. Encourage them to share their experiences, personal preferences, anything that might be relevant to glove selection. Be clear that this feedback will help determine which gloves are ultimately provided to the entire team. Let them know that their feedback will be shared with the glove manufacturer and could result in product improvements.

Get an agreement from the crew that they will provide written feedback as well as the glove samples at the end of the trial, since both are needed to make the best decision. Provide feedback forms that are easy to use.

Step Five: Collect and Review the Data
When you've reached the end of your field testing period, collect all of the feedback forms and the gloves that were used in the trial. Give the trial crew a chance to offer verbal feedback, recording anecdotes and stories of any "saves" from accident or injury that occurred during the glove trial. Collect and review the written feedback forms. Examine the trial glove samples and note their condition with regard to cut resistance and durability of fabric. Include all relevant information in your report.

Step Six: Develop Final Glove Specifications
Using the feedback and other data collected during your glove trial, you are now in a good position to develop final gloves specifications. Companies accomplish this in a variety of ways, so you may have an existing format to follow. If you have questions about how to put together hand protection specifications, a representative of your glove manufacturer should be able to help.

After you have conducted your glove trial, you and your team will have established a process to accurately and efficiently examine different aspects of your PPE program—and this extends beyond gloves. Your workers, having an opportunity to provide input into the decision making process, will better understand and support your glove policy, resulting in fewer incidents.

This article originally appeared in the August 2014 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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