In Hand: How to Protect Against Hand Injuries

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, some 250,000 serious injuries to fingers, hands and wrists occur annually. The year 2013 alone showed nearly 8,000 of these injuries were amputations. When analyzing data on causes for days spent away from work, hand injuries come second only to back-related injuries. In the most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor data, employers report that hand injuries amount to an average of five lost workdays.

The wearing of protective gloves is one of the most effective hand-protection safety programs a company can employ. In fact, wearing any glove reduces the risk of hand injury by 27%, reports OSHA.

Choosing the best hand protection for employees in the workplace is of extreme importance, and it must begin with an understanding of what OSHA has to say on the matter. According to OSHA’s 1910.138(a) general requirements, “Employers shall select and require employees to use appropriate hand protection when employees’ hands are exposed to hazards such as those from skin absorption of harmful substances; severe cuts or lacerations; severe abrasions; punctures; chemical burns; thermal burns; and harmful temperature extremes.”

Standard 1910.138(b) deals with the selection of such protective hand gear:

“Employers shall base the selection of the appropriate hand protection on an evaluation of the performance characteristics of the hand protection relative to the task(s) to be performed, conditions present, duration of use, and the hazards and potential hazards identified.”

What is the best type of hand protection for an individual workplace? There is much to consider before making that choice. There are gloves designed to resist chemicals, protect from cuts, guard against electric shock and other hazards. Some are designed to protect against extreme temperatures; others are coated, dipped and reinforced.

Materials Matter

Materials for gloves include leather, such as cowhide, deerskin, elk skin, goatskin and pigskin. These are the usual leather choices, and each has its own unique capabilities, pros and cons. Other common materials are string, canvas and jersey. Gloves also have different linings and cuffs—some of these include pinked, rolled, straight and unlined. Each safety glove is designed with a select number of features to keep the wearer protected for specific workplace tasks.

There are anti-vibration work gloves that include vibration- and impact-protection and feature flame-resistant gel on both the palm and top of hand. The gel reduces vibration caused by impact tools and dampens against unexpected impacts. Some nitrile disposable gloves are made specifically for

single-use protection from chemicals and other harmful exposures. This type of glove is ideal for workers who need a tough, disposable glove for handling machine repair or work-area cleanup.

Kevlar gloves are both lightweight and strong. They will often stand up to higher cut forces. There also are ergonomically designed gloves for perfect fit and flexibility. One brand features a fish-scale pattern designed to provide the wearer with excellent grip for tasks that require it.

Speaking of tasks, what about the employee whose duties require multi-tasking? This could require multiple forms of hand protection. These workers sometimes may need double or even triple glove-wearing for protection.

Hand Protection 101

Some basic guidelines to keep in mind to prevent hand injuries include: wearing appropriate gloves when handling rough materials or when hands are lifting/moving objects; and removing protruding nails or sharp edges on materials before working with them. It’s important to always use machine guards and lock machinery before reaching into it. Gloves should also never be worn around in-running nips. The glove could be caught, pulling the hand in and causing injury.

When moving material with a truck or hand cart, sufficient room through doorways, clearance, etc., should be given to avoid hands’ contact with walls or doorways. It is also recommended that rings should never be worn when working. A ring can be caught in machinery or on any protuberance, causing grievous injury. And, finally, glass or other sharp objects should always be handled with gloved hands—even when sweeping.

Materials for today’s hand-protection gloves are more comfortable, breathable and wearer-friendly than ever before. Gloves feature lighter coatings, plus better dexterity, touch sensitivity and oil absorbency for grip. Manufacturers have risen to the occasion and have made it easier for companies to protect their workers—and for those workers to adhere to safety standards that require them to keep their hands protected.

The good news is hand injuries can be easily prevented by on-going safety training efforts and use of proper protective equipment. It is important to assess which is the right glove for the right situation. Employers that provide proper training and equipment can help ensure the well-being of their employees—keeping hand injuries down and protecting their company from incurring expensive workman’s comp costs. WMHS

Editor’s note: OSHA’s comprehensive guide to personal protective equipment can be found here: https://www.osha.gov/Publications/osha3151.pdf