Modern PPE Creates Innovative, Comfortable Hand Protection Options for Workers

Modern PPE Creates Innovative, Comfortable Hand Protection Options for Workers

Today, gloves are made from innovative, lightweight materials that provide protection, comfort and reduced hand fatigue, so workers are more likely to wear them. 

When you consider that more than one million workers are sent to emergency rooms each year with hand injuries, it is clear that wearing protective hand equipment is essential to everyday work. In fact, working with sharp objects, heavy machinery or chemicals exposes workers’ hands to serious dangers that can cause permanent damage. Hands can be a workers’ most valuable tool, so using the right protection is vital to employees’ livelihood and to your company’s success. After all, choosing the wrong hand protection can put workers at high risks, create discomfort and bring additional costs to your company.

Luckily, it has never been easier to select the proper hand protection for any work setting. There are many options available: mechanical gloves, cut-resistant gloves, chemical gloves, sleeves and more. Hand protection equipment has also evolved by leaps and bounds from your grandfather’s heavy leather work gloves. Today, gloves are made from innovative, lightweight materials that provide protection, comfort and reduced hand fatigue, so workers are more likely to wear them.

Prioritizing the Need for Safety Equipment

Regardless of your line of work, safety should always be the top priority. Every day, hundreds of millions of people work in hazardous environments, and rely on their safety equipment to get them home each night. PPE runs the gamut from head-to-toe garments, steel-toed boots, hearing protection, hand protection equipment and more. Modern PPE adapts to changing needs and environments, which means no matter what job a worker is doing, adequate PPE exists. Instead of getting in the way, modern PPE increases productivity and efficiency. Most importantly, they are easy to wear from the beginning of a shift all the way until a worker clocks out and heads home.

Hand injuries happen when workers wear gloves that are inadequate, damaged or incorrect for the application—or they’re not wearing any gloves at all. In fact, a recent study found that 70 percent of hand injuries occurred because workers weren’t wearing any gloves. Today’s industrial safety gloves are designed to keep workers safe when handling all types of surfaces and materials across a variety of environments. For example, some of the potential risks to hands and arms include exposure to caustic liquids that can cause chemical burns, exposure to extreme temperatures that can cause thermal burns, abrasions, cuts and punctures that can happen when working with sharp tools and equipment with moving parts. In this article, we will take a look at the different types of protective hand equipment to suit almost any industrial need.

Available Hand Protection Offerings

There are as many types of hand protection equipment on the market today as there are different jobs and applications and each one is designed to keep the user safe when used correctly. There are several options available that help ensure protection, comfort and adaptability to the workplace:

Cut-resistant gloves. Using lightweight materials, modern cut-resistant gloves feature a variety of cut resistance levels, from lowest (A/A1) to highest resistance (F/A9). In contrast to older cut-resistant gloves, modern gloves do not make a tradeoff between loss of dexterity and cut protection. Today’s high-performance materials are light, breathable and comfortable with a superior grip. Cut-resistant gloves are ideal for any employee who works with sharp knives or machinery. In fact, high-end gloves have added features like water and oil repellent, sweat absorption and anti-odor and antimicrobial properties. Some gloves are even color-coded so users can easily see the level of cut resistance they offer.

Mechanical gloves. Quality mechanical gloves are constructed from materials such as deerskin grain leather and spandex which have cut and slash protection to protect the hands while working on heavy machinery. Modern high-quality gloves are also reinforced at high wear areas for longer glove life.

Chemical-resistant gloves. Made from a material such as nitrile, chemical gloves protect the hands against chemicals, irritants or other potentially hazardous materials. Along with additional safety features, such as reliable cut resistance, wet and dry grip, sweat resistance, enhanced dexterity, and improved comfort, high quality gloves may also feature a scannable QR code directly on the glove. Using this feature, workers can get all the glove specs easily, such as chemical breakthrough time and technical documentation.

Thermal gloves. Designed for workers who regularly come into contact with surfaces hot enough to cause burns, such as in labs, foundries, or mills, thermal gloves offer protection by using materials such as Kevlar, a highly heat resistant material. Manufacturers today also bolster protection with features such as using a Kevlar and cotton outer shell and a cotton/poly inner shell to allow for thermal protection up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. This “glove within a glove” approach offers cut and slash protection, as well as thermal protection.

Electrical gloves. Hand protection is critical when working with electrical equipment, especially if employees are near exposed energized conductors or electrical parts. To protect workers against electrical hazards, insulated rubber gloves offer protection while being extremely flexible to make working with small parts easier. Some manufacturers also include RFID technology to allow for easy and efficient asset tracking so site managers can easily determine—in real-time—if workers are equipped with the right protection.

Extending Protection

While gloves are critical for protecting hands against cuts, burns, abrasions, chemical substances or impact, it doesn’t mean workers should neglect arm protection. Manufacturers today are making great strides in ensuring that high-performance protective arm sleeves not only protect but also provide excellent fit and comfort. Arm sleeves are developed to protect against workplace hazards in the broadest array of applications. From cut-resistant sleeves to chemical, thermal and so many others, arm sleeves help companies meet the demands of regulations and the needs of their workers:

Cut-resistant sleeves. Using a blend of materials, like fiberglass and polyester fibers, to provide cut protection, cut-resistant sleeves provide protection while being soft and comfortable. Many cut-resistant sleeves are now manufactured with lycra to provide elasticity and longevity, and come in a variety of lengths to suit needs.

Chemical-resistant sleeves. For any employee working with chemicals, it is important to use a sleeve in addition to chemical resistant gloves to protect against hazardous chemicals that can cause burns. With innovative materials now on the market, sleeves can be found that are resistant to more than 280 chemicals including alcohols, chlorines, ketones, esters and more. In addition, nitrile provides superior solvent resistance while being comfortable to wear for long periods of time.

Thermal sleeves. High-end manufacturers now offer cut-resistant sleeves made with Kevlar to provide cut and slash protection while also being heat resistant up to 900 degrees Fahrenheit. Kevlar is inherently flame resistant and is a great choice for workers in the glass and steel industries.

PPE is an Essential Part of Any Safety Program

Safety should always be priority number one for both workers and managers alike. The key to keeping workers safe is to avoid injuries in the first place. To do this, organizations need to adopt a culture of safety. This can be done by establishing cultural guidelines that empower employees to make the right decisions and build an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect. Consider that a worker is injured on the job every seven seconds in the U.S., according to the National Safety Council, and nearly all of those incidents, 98 percent, occur because of unsafe practices.

To establish a culture of behavior-based safety, organizations should integrate safety management into the company’s core values. A systematic approach is necessary and will likely involve updating machinery and equipment or updating the work environment. In addition, it is important to examine work schedules and employee utilization to avoid workers being too tired on the job. Lastly, a full-featured education and training program is critical to teach employees - no matter how many years of experience they have - on how to perform their tasks in a way that reduces workplace hazards and prioritizes safety.

PPE is the final line of defense when it comes to worker safety. It is the fail-safe for when all other safety precautions fail. Hand protection equipment is one of the most important pieces of PPE because it helps protects workers' livelihoods - their hands. Manufacturers are making strides in developing gloves and sleeves that are stronger, lighter, more breathable and more comfortable to wear than ever before.

While PPE might be the last line of defense, it doesn’t mean it is less important. PPE is an essential part of any safety program because we are all human and accidents are bound to happen – it is the thing that needs to go right when everything else has gone wrong. Having the correct hand protection equipment can be the difference between workers suffering a career-ending injury and being able to work another day. When workers take all reasonable precautions, operate in a culture of safety and have the right PPE for the right job, the risk of injury can be substantially reduced.

This article originally appeared in the February 1, 2022 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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