Improved manufacturing processes have provided designers with the means to design a TPR exoskeleton that safeguards the user’s metacarpals and knuckles all the way to the tip of each finger without hindering mobility. (Mechanix Wear photo)

High Risk on the Rig

The primary objective is to eliminate hand exposure to pinch points, crush zones, and impact hazards.

"Nobody Gets Hurt" is a slogan many oil and gas safety managers are striving to make a reality. Truth is, oil and gas drilling operations expose rig workers' hands to numerous on-site hazards that range from blunt force impact, crush, and pinching injuries to severe abrasions and lacerations to the hand.

Historically, hand injuries make up nearly 50 percent of incidents in the oil and gas industry. Furthermore, a great number of those injuries are "struck by" incidents, which contribute the most to claims, costs, and work days lost. Today, personal protective equipment is the worker's last line of defense—or, in other words, the last chance to prevent injury on site. Major oil and gas drilling companies already are adopting hand protection guidelines in an effort to reduce employee and contractor hand injuries. The old cotton glove days are over, and high-performance task-specific hand protection is required in this growing industry.

Advantages of Today's PPE
PPE isn't just a safe insurance policy; it improves workers' overall performance and efficiency. Such progress can be attributed to the amelioration of high-visibility, high-wear "super materials" and improved manufacturing processes.

Of course, there are numerous types of PPE gear offering better visibility and cut, impact, heat, fire, chemical, and weather protection. No matter the industry, utilizing the proper hand protection can improve the safety and productivity of your workforce. In the oil and gas industry, it is understood that the use of any glove will not prevent all hand injuries. The primary objective is to eliminate hand exposure to pinch points, crush zones, and impact hazards. Derrick hands, Floor hands, Drillers, Tool Pushers, and Production Operators are susceptible to many of these injuries on a daily basis.

Time is money. According to the latest data from the National Safety Council, the average cost of a single hand injury is $21,918 (indemnity + medical). Major oil producers already have outlawed dotted and non-dotted cotton gloves and are quickly adopting what many safety operation managers refer to as the "Global Glove Guideline" for drilling and service contracts to ensure PPE meets industry standards.

Such standards include:

  • For medium to heavy-duty work on site (hand tool use, pipe handling, valve operation), gloves must be worn and dotted and non-dotted cotton gloves are not acceptable.
  • Thermoplastic resin impact protection to the hand and full length of the fingers (pinch point) is required, especially on the rig floor.
  • High-visibility palm and dorsal areas of the hands provide enhanced visibility in low light and varied weather conditions. (ANSI/ISEA 107-2010, High-Visibility Safety Apparel and Headwear-compliant PPE may be required.)
  • Adequate grip, good dexterity, and anti-fatigue properties are required for safe and proficient hand tool operation in slick conditions, that is, drilling fluids (water-based mud), hydraulic oil, diesel, grease, gear oil, dirt.
  • In some cases, penetration/cut protection is desired for handling abrasive materials with sharp edges, throwing chain, pipe handling, structural assembly, etc.
  • Hot/cold weather environmental protection, predominately insulation and waterproof/water-resistant gloves, where applicable.

Visible Hands Are Safe Hands
The need to be seen is critical for rig safety. Heavy equipment bears heavy costs when underestimated. High-visibility garments are designed to draw attention to the worker to prevent injuries and fatalities from struck-by hazards and heavy machinery in complex environments.

ANSI 107-2010 approved high-visibility garments include three components: background material, retroreflective material, and combined-performance material. Combined performance materials can either be fluorescent yellow or fluorescent orange with retroreflective material designed to reflect light back to the source.

Simply put, high-visibility clothing is intended to clearly distinguish its wearer from his or her environment. Testing supports that contrasting, high-visibility base material combined with a reflective panel or strip is critical for user safety in low-light work environments. What better place to bring attention than your always-working and always-moving hands? Although there isn't an official testing standard for gloves, some hand protection manufacturers are beginning to use high-visibility ANSI 107-compliant materials for complete integration with other PPE garments.

Crush Zones
"Roughnecks" often will tell you that rig work separates the men from the boys, and they are certainly right. Historically, struck-by incidents have carried heavy costs in claims for major oil and gas producers. The referred "Global Glove Guideline" mandates critical impact and pinch-point protection to help absorb and disperse blunt-force impact and heavy abrasion-type injuries. Varied densities of injection molded Thermal Plastic Rubber (TPR) is anatomically shaped and either sewn or sonic welded to the shell of the glove. In many cases, the TPR buys the user critical seconds during an incident to free him or her from the situation.

TPR is light in weight, flexible in low temperatures, weather resistant, and impact resistant, with good tear strength. Improved manufacturing processes have provided designers with the means to design a TPR exoskeleton that safeguards the user's metacarpals and knuckles all the way to the tip of each finger without hindering mobility. In an industry with high "struck by" risk, TPR is one of the most important features in reducing serious injury on the rig.

Cut Resistance
Drill bit, collar, and drill pipe placed. Kelly and turntable attached. Begin drilling.

Severe abrasions and lacerations to the hand from prolonged hand tool operation on and off the rig floor has lead to the development of cut-resistant hand protection specially designed to safeguard rig hands. Dyneema®, Kevlar®, steelfibre, and fiberglass yarns are commonly used to build cut-resistant gloves that can withstand abuse and perform in high-stress environments. Composite yarn made with multiple components (for example, Kevlar® and steel) delivers the most effective forms of cut-resistant materials without sacrificing fit, feel, and overall dexterity, whether it’s cut and sew or seamless knitted work gloves. Such materials also yield high abrasion and tear resistance, improving durability and extending the life of the gloves.

The Elements
Hot, cold, dry, wet, on land or offshore: The elements present challenges for workers and increase the risk of incident and injury on site.

Cold conditions have a major impact on the hands. The body will fight to preserve heat, thus reducing blood flow to the hands, which makes it critical for workers in cold environments to have the proper insulation. Effective insulating technology traps air molecules between the wearer and the outside to insulate the wearer from cold outside air.

Where there's cold weather, there's also the challenge of water. Drilling personal generally aren't afraid to get a little dirty; drilling fluids, hydraulic oil, diesel, and grease are all part of the job. Improvements to waterproofing processes enable workers to protect their hands and remain free from the elements. There are processes such as OutDry®'s lamination process, in which a breathable waterproof membrane is directly bonded to the external layer of the glove, sealing water entry points more efficiently than a traditional waterproof bag and improving the overall fit and feel of a waterproof glove.

Shared Vision of an Injury-Free Environment
For many years, the oil and gas industry has used low-cost hand protection. Work gloves were considered a commodity--used, abused, and thrown away. In any event, there isn't a single PPE producer building indestructible work gloves, but competition breeds innovation and high-performance hand protection is changing the way safety managers approach hand safety.

Safety professionals and field drilling managers share a common vision, and that is to provide safe processes and effective PPE in pursuit of an injury-free work environment. Task-specific PPE is leading the fight.

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