THE GLOVE ISSUE: Can We Really Lower Injury Rates with Proper PPE?

The Glove Issue
Even with the higher cut levels in gloves, no glove will protect from a moving or rotating blade. Only engineering controls protect from these types of cut hazards. (photo courtesy Global Glove & Safety Mfg.)

By Don Groce, Contributor

No matter how hard we strive to provide new innovative solutions for workplace hazards, sometimes injuries still occur. As workplace safety professionals, it is our job and our passion to make a safer workplace by providing the best in personal protective equipment (PPE).

When a worker is injured on the job, the costs to the worker for time lost at work, medical expenses and possible life-altering disability can be staggering.  For the employer, insurance compensation costs, replacing the injured employee, either temporarily or permanently with other employees taking on the responsibilities of the injured employee or retraining of new employees adds to the huge costs all around for an injury. An OSHA fine for certain injuries can be devastating to a small business.

Numerous organizations address the issue of safety in the workplace. OSHA has been in existence for 48 years and serves as the enforcement arm of the U.S. Department of Labor. The mission of OSHA is to keep workers safe by providing necessary controls for monitoring, educating and legislating rules and restrictions that require employers to maintain a safe working environment for our nation’s 130 million workers.

You would think that OSHA is a huge organization. However, with 2,400 OSHA inspectors given the task of trying to protect 130 million workers in 8 million workplaces, the task is unending. OSHA mandates the rules and regulations addressing issues such as fall protection, electrical safety, air quality, confined space safety, hearing protection, head and face protection, chemical hazards and hand protection. The task of keeping employees safe falls on the individual employer.

Organizations such as The International Safety and Equipment Association (ISEA) writes standards that address safety issues and the performance of PPE. The American National Standard for Hand Protection Classification provides a very useful tool to help employers reduce injuries by choosing a job-suited solution for employees exposed to numerous workplace hand hazards.

What are the latest PPE innovations?  Cut-resistant glove materials continue to dominate new products for all hand protection manufacturers. Because of development of new fibers and engineered fiber technology, a higher level of cut resistance necessitated the adoption of four new categories of cut-resistance performance. Previously, there were five cut level classes. Now, there are nine cut levels. As you would expect, a higher cut level means a more substantial glove, with substantially stronger and sometimes bulkier components—and significantly higher cost. Few gloves on the market reach an ANSI Cut Level 9. Most commonly sold cut-resistant gloves are ANSI Cut Levels 2, 3 and 4.

What are the limitations of PPE?  Even with the higher cut levels in gloves, no glove will protect from a moving or rotating blade. Only engineering controls protect from these types of cut hazards. Cut levels are assigned based on the number of grams applied to a razor blade that will cut through a cut-resistant material, after the blade travels approximately ¾ of an inch across the surface of the material. So, Cut Level 2 means 500 grams (1.1lbs) applied to a razor blade will cut through; even a Cut Level 9 rating of 6,000 grams means 13lbs of force applied to a razor blade will cut through.

If an additional factor, such as any acceleration from a fall; dropped blade; or mechanized force is applied to a blade, the cut-resistant glove may still fail to completely protect. That is why gloves and sleeves are classified as “cut resistant” rather than “cut proof.” Most contain the disclaimer “not to be used with motorizes or rotating blades.”

How can we maximize the impact of providing the best protection for the people we are supposed to protect? Education on PPE is the key. Employers must provide the appropriate PPE that is job-suited for the hazards in the particular workplace. Employees must be educated on the benefits of wearing the proper PPE at all times and when to replace PPE or report a PPE failure. Bottom line is that you really can lower and even eliminate injury rates by using PPE that is job-suited for the hazards that present themselves in our labor force.

With a booming economy and more workers, it is extremely important to train, motivate and provide employees with the proper protection to ensure a safe workplace environment and provide security and confidence. The results will include a high morale and positive productivity. Keep your workers safe and take advantage of every opportunity for excellence in performance, safety and resulting profitability.   

Don Groce is the Chemical/Disposable Product Manager for Global Glove & Safety Mfg.