Picking the Right Glove for the Right Job: Hand Protection in the Oil and Gas Industry

Picking the Right Glove for the Right Job: Hand Protection in the Oil and Gas Industry

With so many options, functions, and fits, selection can be overwhelming.

Hand injuries are no joke. They account for a huge percentage of occupational injuries on the job, and they cost companies time and money. The good news? There are a number of PPE gloves on the market to choose from for hand protection. The bad news? It’s often difficult to discern which glove is best for your job, employee, or task.

Of all the occupational hand injuries, the oil and gas industry often sees the most. Using many tools, performing hands-on tasks, and working with slippery oil all contribute to the high rate of oil and gas hand injuries. Researchers and manufacturers have been at work to figure out how to reduce this risk and better protect employees on the job.

The oil and gas industry does not just have a high rate of hand injuries—it has an eight times higher fatality rate compared to other industries, too. Protecting workers’ hands is important not just for employee safety, but for company costs and liability as well. According to WorkSafeBC Magazine, impact injuries to wrists, fingers, and hands accounted for 20 percent of all body parts injured in the oil and gas industry between 2009 and 2013. A single oilfield injury can cost a cost a company over $21,000 and sometimes more.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics regularly releases data on workplace injuries, and hand injuries are routinely one of the highest reported injuries. In 2014, upper extremities affected by an injury accounted for 346,170 cases, or 32 cases per 10,000 full-time workers. Hands accounted for the most of upper extremity cases at 40 percent.

To better understand hand injuries within the oil and gas industry, OH&S worked with Cecilia Chemin, hand protection product manager for Honeywell Industrial Safety. You might be asking the following questions about hand protection for your employees:

What are the most common hand risk employees face in the oil and gas industry?

The oil and gas industry requires the use of heavy tools, slippery oil products, and large machinery. So, it’s not surprising so many injuries occur in the field.

“Working with hammers, tools and heavy machinery under severe weather conditions or atmospheric challenges like poorly lit spaces can affect manual dexterity and mental concentration, which can increase the likelihood of hand injury,” Chemin said. “And if the worker is wearing a glove that is not properly fitted or suited for the job, or it’s worn out or damaged, that can further increase the likelihood of injury.”

According to Chemin, wrist, hand, and finger injuries resulting from impact blows and cuts, and lacerations from working around machinery, are among some of the most common oil and gas injuries.

How important is it for workers to have a glove tailored to specific activities rather than a one-size-fits-all model?

While it would make life easier to have a one-size-sits all glove for all people, activities, and jobs, that is neither safe nor plausible. PPE gloves are meant for protection, and in the oil and gas industry, a PPE glove needs to have a number of elements to best enhance workability and protect employees simultaneously.

Modern PPE gloves can cater to a number of necessary safety functions: high-visibility, impact- and cut-resistance, weather protective, coating technology, and gripping force. Of these elements, impact- and cut-resistance and gripping force are particularly important in the oil and gas industry. Chemin describes how these glove functions protect worker hands, prevent hand fatigue, and make wearing PPE gloves both enjoyable and worthwhile.

“High-visibility colors can be a great aid for hand signaling for workers who labor under low-light conditions,” Chemin said. “Flexible application use means that it should offer cut- and impact-resistance. [Gloves] should be made rugged to withstand extreme conditions, yet also be comfortable to wear and lightweight so that the wearer doesn’t suffer from hand fatigue over the course of a workday.

Thanks to advanced knitting technologies…manufacturers can now produce gloves that are extremely dexterous and comfortable, and at the same time provide excellent cut resistance. Coating technology has improved substantially through the development of new materials and processes, …[and] new gloves require less gripping force to hold slippery objects compared with previous generation designs.”

Why are employee hand injuries such a big concern for employers in the oil and gas industry (liability, cost etc.)?

The hands are some of our bodies’ most important tools; we use them for nearly everything. While this should be enough to want to wear effective PPE on the job, OSHA also states that employers are responsible for keeping employees safe and informed of hazards in the workplace. Still, the need to protect employee hands goes even beyond just common wellness and employer responsibility: hands are expensive.

Hand injuries can cost employers a lot—time, money, lawsuits, and overall worker assurance. Remember, a single oilfield injury can cost a cost a company more than $21,000.

“Hand injuries are a concern to employers because these incidents can add up to lost time or worker absences, liability expenses, and regulatory fines—and ultimately, decreased worker morale and productivity, and lost company profits,” Chemin said.

What methods can safety leaders use to not only make sure employees wear hand protection but also instill a company culture recognition of the importance of overall safety on the job?

Protecting employees is not a one-and-done situation—safety managers and employers must routinely evaluate job sites, tasks, risks, and training. For oil and gas workers, hand injuries are a serious hazard that needs to be accounted for. While the risk of hand injury in the industry might never be completely eliminated, the right PPE glove can greatly reduce hazards and protect workers.

“Training should include proper use of the hands in performing tasks, as well as instructions on how to choose the right personal protective equipment for the job,” Chemin said. “An assessment of the jobsite and machinery can identify likely threats to a worker’s hands such as pinch points, cut hazards, chemical exposures, and the like. From there, defining suitable control measures, updating regularly, and communicating continuously to workers should be an ongoing part of any hand injury prevention campaign.”

Close to 20,000 people in the oil and gas industry work on oil fields and refineries. That accounts for some 40,000 hands using oily tools, pumps, and large machinery every day. In order to best protect workers in an industry where hazards are high and hand injuries are common, using effective and advanced PPE gloves should not be a question. Employers should do their research to fin

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2019 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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