Keep a Firm Grasp on Proper Glove Use
Consider an ergonomic assessment. You may be surprised at the changes that can be easily made in positioning, workstation design, tool use and selection, and vibration control.
It was a beautiful holiday office party, with great foods and drinks for everyone. At the end, as is usual, other affiliated department staffers came in as a courtesy -- housekeepers, maintenance staff, and others. Any leftovers would be kept covered and nibbled on throughout the day by various staffers. I remember watching as several parked their housekeeping and maintenance service carts/belts in the hallway and served themselves food, opening covered containers while wearing the gloves used for cleaning, the same set of gloves they had been wearing while just cleaning bathrooms, working on toilets, floor moldings, etc.
Other employees removed their gloves, shook them off, and parked them in pockets or draped over their belts while serving themselves, without any additional hand hygiene I noticed. They then put on the same gloves when returning to their work duties.
I knew every employee had attended PPE and hand hygiene training and could easily answer questions on policy and training on gloves like a pro, And yet, in this situation, I was the one receiving the education: Training has meaning only if it is used! (Yes, all food items were quickly disposed of that day, and much retraining began for many surprised employees.)
No matter what type of work environment you have, if you carefully watch your employees without their realizing it, you will see a vast array of glove misuse that either spreads potentially deadly contamination or destroys the barrier protection of the glove itself, giving a false sense of security and endangering the employee. Employees cut/tear the fingertips out of gloves to improve dexterity while drawing blood or performing fine machine work; they reuse single-use gloves; they touch with gloved, contaminated hands other things such as patient beds, hideous crime scene evidence, cell phones, keys; they adjust their glasses, use tissues, eat and drink, put hands in pockets, or write with personal ink pens that they use later without cleaning. They wear gloves of the wrong size or wrong type for the job.
These are your employees, and thus your program's failure. Failure can mean a lot of things: increased worker's compensation costs, increased contamination (think of health care and MRSA, for example), damage to products, and lost production time. Increased liability if public exposures are discovered also can be costly.
Many facilities think product selection is the most important aspect of a well-functioning hand protection program. They line up colorful arrays of gloves or other needed hand protection items and associated tools for employees to use. These gurus believe their programs are outstanding, but they're wrong. The best glove in the world is only as successful as the person wearing it allows it to be. My best example of this is the hazardous waste technician who regularly removed his right glove by using his teeth to grip one of the glove's fingertips. (I thought the supervisor would faint.) Turns out the gloves ordered were too small, fitted tightly, and were difficult for a non-complaining employee to remove. Immediate work reassignment, retraining, and extensive health assessment/monitoring were implemented.
Consistency Issues with Hand Protection
Be honest: How consistent is correct glove use at your facility? Perhaps 35 percent? Maybe 70 percent? As safety, you need to know.
Get a firm grasp on your hand protection program. Start at the beginning and work forward to complete and consistent usage. Do your safety program homework now before being embarrassed by the injury figures, exposures, accident reports, claims, and corner office finger-pointing.
Do you know the actual history of hand protection/selection at your facility? How did your facility hand protection program develop? Typically, many years ago, a department manager or supervisor ordered some gloves and made them available to the employees, rather unceremoniously: "Here, use these." Reorders are made. Then cost effectiveness comes into play, and often a cheaper type is substituted without knowing exactly how the exchange will work, but it saves money. Employees may then refuse to wear the new gloves or try to make do with the new item, whether it fits correctly or protects for the work being done or holds up to the process.
See where this is going? Do you manage your hand protection program, or does it abuse you? Start with the hazard or process. If gloves are being used, ask why and how long they have been used. Are reorders being done, and are the products actually being used? You do not want employees simply using gloves over contaminated or damaged skin, it defeats your primary purpose in hand protection.
Know what you need, and use what you buy. Review the injury history and the costs of the injuries. (Almost every facility has hand/finger injuries.) Glove misuse may also be a problem. Completely review the tasks being done and realistically assess the hazards. Conduct a hazard analysis based on your safety data sheets, contamination risks, barrier protection needs, and length of exposure. Talk with supervisors and then talk with employees, either one on one or in groups, for input. You’ll be amazed at the information you learn -- and possibly horrified at what goes on that you did not know about. Can the supervisor or department head explain to an inspector what glove is being used and why it was chosen? As safety, can you? And in an inspection situation, is this documented?
A Real Budget Proposal
Start by reviewing what is ordered by each department and how much is actually used. Track back several years, looking at process changes or other alterations, shift additions, etc. to know what is used and what is needed. Compare needed products to fluff purchases and know the costs in detail. Have more than one person making the final decisions. Often the budget manager tries to shave expenses by substituting a cheaper quality glove that does not meet the expectations or comfort needs of the employees.
Make compliance easy for the employee. Provide consistency in training, mentoring by supervisors, problem solving when needed, and availability of the right product for the job. If there's damage, offer unquestioned replacement. If the employee is intentionally damaging PPE, you will be able to track that, too. Look for the spikes in glove use, and to ensure compliance, check the trash for correctly removed gloves and the condition of the used PPE. Are you seeing used/damaged/orphan gloves in hallways, bathrooms, parking lots? Ask yourself whether there is additional exposure to others and what failed so that employees do not follow the policy and procedures. Cast a critical eye on supervisors to ensure they teach and show the correct procedures and not shortcuts. Consider an ergonomic assessment. You may be surprised at the changes that can be easily made without a great deal of cost in positioning, workstation design, tool use and selection, and vibration control.
Training and Product Selection
Training for hand protection, including sanitation issues, is more than seat time snoozing through a video. You have to make sure the employees understand the issues and know what "bad" things can happen when they do not follow the correct procedure. Be realistic, be graphic, and make sure it applies to the work being done. Use appropriate training aids -- from the "glowing" contamination trackers to damaged gloves, worker’s compensation numbers, actual injuries on your site, and lasting disabilities.
Tailor the training to the audience and their education/language skill level. Make the training time exceptional, not just endurance. We have all seen training classes where the employees sat dozing; no one wins in this scenario.
Have available and ready to use all needed "additions" to ensure complete hand hygiene. Wipes, rubs, rinses, foams, and sinks all add value to your hand hygiene program, but only if they're used. Employees must understand and be trained to automatic behavior in correct hand-washing techniques and frequency for the job being done. Provide moisturizers where needed so that employees will wear the products provided as intended without the added skin allergies/dryness that comes with improved hand hygiene.
Begin your product selection with a list, then review types. If you do not feel you can make the right selections, call the experts -- manufacturers, distributors, and independent consultants will be happy to assist, send samples, or come show their PPE and help you assess what is needed. Tell them upfront about your budget restrictions and ask for all they can offer at the right price. You will be surprised bywhat can be provided.
Make sure you have sizes needed, and keep them in stock. Dangers abound for employees trying to use misfitting PPE. It causes loss of dexterity and dropped tools, and it increases chances of injury by aggravation through hand fatigue. Every comfort you can offer an employee wearing PPE helps.
Be honest with employees about what is expected from them and why, honest with management about obtaining your set goals, and very honest with yourself on your ability to get the program to work. It takes time, patience, and commitment on your part and a willingness by employees to be safe on the job. Compliance is a long-term process, not an overnight event. Safety compliance is both a challenge and an opportunity.
Follow up -- over and over. Keep the message on point, but constantly update your efforts, methods, and review. It will seem never-ending with the regular turnover of employees, videos, posters, mentoring, training and budget meetings. Done correctly, your efforts will be rewarded, but it takes positive leadership and time to implement.
The real message for a successful program: Consistent/convenient/compliant. You have to ensure consistency in the program administration and training, convenient product use and availability, and compliance with use by supervisors and employees alike. As the facility safety professional, you have to make sure all of the elements maintain commitment from management and employees. You are the cheerleader, and you have to keep pushing the goals a little at a time. Few companies can demand immediate compliance and obtain this. Win your employees' trust and you can be extremely successful, one step at a time.
This article originally appeared in the April 2013 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.