Willing Wearers

Glove design and technology advances lead to greater comfort and, importantly, also to greater worker acceptance.

IN today's environment, a company simply cannot afford the financial or lost productivity costs associated with work-related injuries. Skill necessary to perform most tasks requires significant training, and time lost to injuries not only costs a company in medical expenses, but also in lost productivity and morale.

OSHA requires every employer to assess the hazards associated with the performance of every job. The hazard assessment must be kept on file and employees must be supplied with the correct personal protective equipment and trained to correctly use it. With the correct protection measures, either through job modification or by using the correct hand protection, hand injuries can be significantly reduced.

It is generally accepted that workers will wear gloves when being observed by a site safety manager, during an inspection, or if they believe they are at risk of being "caught" without the required protection. But what are some of the factors that can encourage workers to wear hand protection willingly, all of the time? Continued research indicates end users are looking for hand protection that offers greater dexterity, better protection from hazards, and above all, increased comfort.

Innovations in materials and technology have resulted in an ever-increasing selection of gloves for just about any purpose imaginable. But with such a wide variety of choices, selecting the correct hand protection may have become more difficult. Correct glove specification is important both to remain in compliance with regulations and to protect workers from injury. In the manufacturing environment, hand injuries typically result from physical or chemical hazards. Following is a discussion of each type of hazard, with recommendations for specifying the correct PPE.

Physical Hazards
Preventable injuries from physical hazards include cuts and lacerations, abrasions, puncture wounds, burns from heat or cold, snags, and pinches. With the correct general- or special-purpose gloves, these injuries are largely preventable. Advances in polymer and fiber technologies have resulted in a new category of cut-resistant fibers. Gloves manufactured from these advanced fibers provide superior protection from cuts and lacerations when compared to cotton, leather, or standard synthetic yarn gloves. Additional protection can be provided through various coatings applied to the glove.

For abrasion injury prevention, work gloves with a heavy coat of a polymer such as nitrile, natural rubber, neoprene, or PVC can provide the needed toughness to prevent injuries resulting from scrapes. These supported gloves have a textile substrate that gives reinforcement to the polymer coating and are ideal for protecting the hands from abrasion injuries. They have become an industry staple. Meanwhile, the popularity of lightly coated gloves has increased. These supported gloves consist of a knitted or woven base glove coated with the same polymers as the heavy gloves. Although these lightly coated gloves do not offer quite as much protection from abrasion injuries, they provide more flexibility and touch sensitivity. Polymer coated gloves also provide excellent puncture resistance from nail-like objects.

Polymer coated gloves provide excellent protection for the hazards of snags or pinches. For added safety, some gloves have a special safety cuff that allows the wearer to take the glove off quickly if it gets caught in moving equipment or is snagged in such a way that the hand could be drawn into moving parts. Different cuffs on gloves are designed to meet the needs of the wearer. For instance, knitted wrists on gloves are warm and prevent small particles such as wood or metal shavings from going down into the gloves and irritating the hands. Gauntlet cuffs come in all different lengths and are designed to protect the wearer's forearms from physical injury or contact with substances that could harm the wrist and arm.

Recently developed sponge nitrile technology has an added benefit for wearers, besides its engineered ability to absorb more greasy, oily liquids while still providing a strong grip. This unique technology actually results in a glove that conforms better to the hand, which reduces fatigue by reducing resistance that a traditionally dipped glove produces.

Chemical Hazards
Injuries that can result from chemical exposure must be identified for any chemical before working with it. Chemical hazards are classified as localized when injuries are caused directly through contact with chemicals, or systemic when injuries are caused by absorption of chemicals through the skin.

Because it is essential to the health and well-being of employees that correct gloves are worn whenever the potential for exposure to a hazardous chemical exists, selecting the correct gloves is important. However, selecting the correct gloves to protect workers from chemical exposures can be confusing. Glove specification should be done after careful evaluation of the hazards and glove protection characteristics. A resource that is based on glove testing should always be used to select the correct chemical resistant glove. One such resource designed by our company--www.chemrest.com--provides data for chemical resistance on numerous gloves, both for heavy total-immersion exposure and for limited or intermittent exposure.

Glove Selection
If the only hazards present in the workplace are physical, then in most cases a general-purpose work glove is appropriate, typically a yarn shell with either a light or heavy polymer coating. These gloves have many benefits compared to uncoated cotton or leather. Better comfort from ergonomic glove design will reduce fatigue and increase tactile sensitivity. The level of protection from various physical hazards is also better.

If the worker may be exposed to sharp edges, such as sheet metal or glass, then a cut-resistant glove should be selected. These gloves can be made of advanced technology yarns such as Kevlar® or those containing steel wire and can be coated with a polymer or uncoated. For temperature extremes or high vibration exposure, specialty gloves are required for adequate protection. Again, these gloves are engineered to have specific characteristics that maximize protection from the specific hazard.

Size Matters
Ill-fitting gloves are gloves that are much less likely to be worn. In fact, gloves that fit poorly can interfere with the tactile sensitivity workers need to do their jobs safely and accurately. Poor fit also can affect the adoption of an otherwise superior product, a lesson that was learned by purchasing managers at one Midwest auto plant.

Managers introduced a new glove to workers that significantly outperformed previous gloves by three to one on wear and, even more important, in durability. When the same glove was introduced to employees at another plant owned by the same manufacturer, however, it was rejected by workers with little explanation. Users simply told management they couldn't do their jobs with the new gloves.

After speaking directly to employees, the glove manufacturer discovered a slight variation in glove size between the previously specified gloves and the new gloves. Though most manufacturers follow the European (CE) standard for sizing, small variations sometimes exist from manufacturer to manufacturer, even among gloves that meet the same technical specifications. In this case, it turned out that employees who had worn a medium in the competitor's glove found that a medium in the new glove was too large. Once the employees were individually sized and fitted, their adoption of the new gloves increased--in fact, they raved about its performance.

What's the lesson to be learned from this example? When new products are introduced, get them in the hands of the users to determine whether they are better than what is currently being used. Get samples of the various gloves that meet the technical requirements of the task and let users try them. Not all gloves feel the same, nor does the same glove feel right for all individuals. Given the increasing proportion of female and Asian employees in the workforce, more attention is being paid to offering gloves in a range of sizes that will fit all segments of the population.

The risks of providing only one glove option for workers or providing a glove that inhibits the manual dexterity or tactile sensitivity needed to perform job tasks are numerous. Some workers will simply choose to wear no gloves at all. Others may choose a more comfortable glove, but one that was never intended for the task the worker is using it for. As an example, in kiln operations or high-heat, injection molding work, the ability to digitally manipulate a product for evening out exposure, dipping, or simply for inspecting purposes is critical. A glove that is too bulky will fall short. While a worker isn't likely to abandon gloves entirely, he or she may very well choose a glove that was never intended for such situations, and the result would be equally disastrous.

More Options, More Acceptance
Protecting workers' health is the goal of everyone involved in occupational health and industrial hygiene. Using the correct hand protection can significantly reduce or eliminate the potential injuries and long-term debilitating consequences of exposure to physical risks and toxic chemicals in the workplace.

Choosing the correct gloves for working with these hazards can be a formidable task. Thankfully, materials and design advances by manufacturers are leading to increasing options that provide workers with greater comfort, which in turn leads to workers who are more willing to follow established safety practices.

This article appeared in the September 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

This article originally appeared in the September 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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