Hand Injuries are Preventable! If only…

Donald F. Groce, Contributor

Even after many years, a hand injury can be life-changing. In one quick, distracted instant, a slip of the untrained hand on a first job left permanent damage. A person might never see his/her hand again without seeing the nasty scar, which is an ever-present reminder of how dangerous improper handling of a razor box cutter can be.

Even though it certainly never happened again, it should not have happened the first time. Scars are reminders of past mistakes or accidents. It’s easy to say: “If only, I had been more careful.” The trauma of the injury, coupled with the embarrassment of one’s own carelessness, caused damage that was more than skin-deep. Some of the most lasting lessons in hand protection can be learned the hard way—from a frightening injury.

Most any cut-resistant glove on the hand opposite from the razor-wielding hand could have lessened or even prevented this injury. Proper training of new employees is essential every time there is a potential hazard to the hands.

Once a worker has been injured on the job or at home, they tend to approach almost every job or do-it-yourself task more carefully, with maybe a little healthy fear of the potential hazards to be encountered. The question they should ask themselves is “How can I keep my hands from being injured doing this task?”

Hand Hazards:

What are the hazards for the situation? Some of the questions you may ask include:

  1. Are there sharp objects that may cut my hands?
  2. Are there hot or cold objects that could cause a burn to my hands?
  3. Is there chance of an arc flash or flame?
  4. If the object I am handling is wet or oily, how can I keep from dropping it to avoid breaking the object or injuring my lower extremities?
  5. Could there be a needle in some unseen place, which could puncture my hands; and could it be contaminated with an infectious body fluid or illicit toxic drug?
  6. Is there a chance my hands will be exposed to a caustic, corrosive or toxic chemical?
  7. Are there biological agents or allergens that may cause a rash or allergic reaction on contact?

It is extremely important to protect your hands every time you encounter a risk.

The good news is that, every year, new advances in hand protection are made, and new gloves enter the marketplace. With such a variety of hand protection options, most hand injuries are completely preventable, if the individual wears the proper PPE. Employers are required by OSHA to provide the correct PPE based on a written hazard assessment. Proper training is also required by OSHA.

Cut-Resistant Gloves:

Cut-resistant gloves normally consist of a knitted shell or liner made from a material designed to provide cut resistance. These cut-resistant shells can be uncoated or coated with polymer that provides grip and abrasion resistance.

The two predominant base materials used in most cut-resistant gloves are almost always based on aramid fiber or high-performance polyethylene extruded (HPPE) yarns. These base yarns have an inherent strength of their own. Composite materials can be added to these base materials to provide even higher cut resistance or comfort. These composite materials, such as stainless steel, ceramic, fiberglass, spandex, nylon or carbon yarn, enhance the strength of the base aramid and HPPE yarns.

The differences in protection offered by cut-resistant gloves are normally designated by their ANSI Cut Resistance Performance Levels, as outlined in the ANSI/ISEA 105-2016 American National Standard for Hand Protection Classification. Until 2016, there were five ANSI Cut Levels. There are now nine ANSI Cut Resistant Glove ratings. The cut levels are measured on a specially designed piece of laboratory equipment, the tomodynamometer, referred to as the TDM-100. The machine measures the distance or blade travel in millimeters until cut-through occurs, when a certain number of grams are applied to a special razor blade moving at constant speed across the test material. The test data from at least 15 different cuts with different weights placed on the razor blades is used to calculate the number of grams, where a 20mm blade travel results in a cut-through. From this number, where a 20mm blade travel is calculated, the Cut Resistance Performance Level is assigned.

Contact Heat:

When choosing a glove for handling hot objects, American ANSI Ratings and European EN Ratings are designed to measure how quickly the temperature rises inside a glove when the outside is in contact with heat. For instance, in the EN Test Method, the performance levels are Level 1-4 heat levels with Level 1 of 100°C (212°F); Level 2 of 250°C (482°F); Level 3 of 350°C (662°F); or Level 4 of 500°C (932°F). To pass a certain level, it must take > 15 seconds for the inside temperature to rise 10°C (50°F) above room temperature. It is important to remember that polymer coatings on gloves may melt and stick to hot surfaces at temperatures at or above Level 2 (482°F) or Level 3 (662°F).

Arc Flash or Flame Resistance:

Some materials are not flame resistant. For high heat or arc flash, HPPE or UHMWPE (polyethylene based) cut-resistant gloves are not recommended, since the polyethylene will melt. Aramid fiber-based materials, such as Kevlar® or Aralene®, normally have high melting points (>900°F) and are best suited for high temperatures and for arc flash. Polymer coatings have different melt temperatures and flammability. Natural rubber, nitrile and PVC are not flame resistant and will continue to burn, even after the flame source has been removed.  Neoprene is much better and does not support a flame.

Puncture Resistance:

In the past, all puncture-resistance testing was done with a 1mm stylus, not a needle. The stylus was much more like a very large thick nail. Even though a glove scored high for puncture resistance to a nail-like object, most puncture-resistance concerns were expressed because of the concern about needle sticks. The latest version of the ANSI American National Standard for Hand Protection Classification includes performance rating criteria for both hypodermic needles (25-gauge) and non-hypodermic needle puncture resistance.

Needle Stick Protection:

Recent advances and development of amazingly innovative new materials, such as Alycore®, answers the need for protection from needle stick injuries. Alycore provides ANSI Level 5 performance against hypodermic needle puncture resistance and provides ANSI Level A9 Cut Resistance protection, the highest level.

Chemical Resistance:

Besides the protection from the physical hazards listed above, many jobs have chemical hazards.

For many years, the same thermoplastic or elastomeric polymers have been used to make most of the commonly used chemical-resistant gloves. These polymers include polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), latex, Neoprene® and nitrile (NBR), along with special polymers like Butyl® rubber and Viton® fluoroelastomer. Gloves made from these polymers are very specific in providing protection from exposure to certain chemicals and classes of chemicals.

Each polymer has specific strengths and weaknesses in protection from exposure to different classes of chemicals. In some instances, the protection is excellent against a certain chemical class and, in other chemical classes, the protection is extremely poor or not recommended. For example, Neoprene has excellent resistance to almost every mineral acid and carboxylic acid. Nitrile has excellent chemical resistance to fuels, such as kerosene and straight-chain aliphatic hydrocarbons like hexane, but performs very poorly against ketones like acetone and MEK.  Viton is an extremely expensive glove that has excellent protection from exposure to aromatic hydrocarbons like benzene, toluene or xylene, but has extremely poor protection from ketones, such as acetone or MEK. Butyl has excellent protection from exposure to ketones (acetone, MEK and MIBK), but is very poor against fuels and hydrocarbons. PVA has excellent protection to methylene chloride and other chlorinated hydrocarbons; or ketones, like acetone and MEK, and aromatic hydrocarbons like benzene, toluene and xylene, but it has poor protection from alcohols (i.e., isopropanol or methanol) or water-based chemicals, like mineral acids and caustics.

Film laminate gloves are made from a thin, flat film with ethylene vinyl alcohol (EVOH) that is similar to PVA, sandwiched between layers of polyethylene. These gloves offer excellent protection from almost every chemical, but they are ill-fitting and difficult to wear, except as a liner.

The latest advancement in chemical-resistant gloves is a PVA/nitrile hybrid glove that combines the protection of PVA with the protection from water-based chemicals offered by nitrile. This glove is entering the market at an excellent price, much lower than Butyl and Viton. Its chemical resistance solves a lot of issues for people looking for the best protection from difficult chemicals, like methylene chloride, benzene and MEK, in a comfortable-fitting glove.

Biological Hazards and Clandestine Drug Exposure:

Many jobs, such as border patrol, law enforcement, drug enforcement agencies or first responders face a myriad of hazards that are sometimes unthinkable. One example is the current opioid crisis, which requires special precautions for those officials who may encounter Fentanyl powders, pills or clandestine laboratories.

The most dangerous route of exposure to opioids is inhalation of the powders, where 100% of what is inhaled is immediately absorbed. Masks should always be worn to keep powders from being inhaled.

Fentanyl can also be absorbed through intact skin. Although the dermal route is not quite as dangerous as inhalation, your skin must also be protected. The Interagency Board for Emergency Preparedness (IAB), in Washington, DC, has addressed the PPE recommended for the hazard of exposure to Fentanyl: “Use of proper personal protective equipment and standard safe work practices to prevent inhalation of powders and to minimize direct skin contact with residues should be instituted as soon as the potential presence of such materials is suspected.”

The board recommends gloves for Fentanyl exposure and states that nitrile single-use examination gloves should always be worn. Although the IAB does not mention double-gloving, the MSDS from Pfizer for Fentanyl Citrate does recommend double-gloving with disposable nitrile gloves.

Hazards to the hands may include lacerations, nail or needle punctures; burns from heat or cold; or exposure to biological or chemical agents, including opioids such as Fentanyl. There are hand-protection options, including existing and new products, that have been developed and designed to protect from all of these.

If there is an obvious hazard present that may injure your hands, do not attempt to do the work without proper hand protection. Your hands are too important and the risk is too great!

Hopefully, you will never say, “If only…” WMHS

About the Author: Don F. Groce is Chemical/Disposable Product Manager for Global Glove and Safety.