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Essential Hand Protection for Worker Safety

By: Jane Marsh, Contributor

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of essential hand protection for worker safety. Statistics show hand injuries can — and do — happen regularly, whether in manufacturing, engineering, warehousing or one of the trades.

According to OSHA, wearing proper personal protective equipment (PPE) could prevent around 70.9% of worker injuries sustained to the hands or arms. When most individuals think of hand protection, they think of gloves. Consider this a quick but thorough guide to matching gloves, product characteristics and other tools to the task at hand to reduce safety incidents.

Hand Protection for Everyday Tasks

Everyday work gloves are satisfactory for tasks like moving boxes in warehouses or operating lift trucks. The right gloves enhance safety by reducing the likelihood of incidents and equipment-operation blunders, as well as by protecting the hands themselves. Choose everyday disposable task gloves that:

  • Provide a confident grip, usually through rubberized and textured palms and fingers
  • Come in a range of sizes to accommodate all employees comfortably
  • Offer a secure fit without slipping or stretching out too quickly
  • Allow the hand, wrist and fingers to move without their range of motion impeded
  • Don’t rip or tear easily and can be worn for multiple shifts before disposal

Hand Protection for More Intense Tasks

Some of the tasks in supply chains, on construction sites and elsewhere require more robust forms of hand and arm protection. The most common hazards in such environments are lacerations and cuts.

Cut and Impact Protection

Take time to study the cut resistance levels as outlined by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

Gloves rated “A1” provide protection for low-cut-hazard tasks and cutting force up to 499 grams. “A5” gloves provide substantial (5,999 grams) protection against cuts, harsh impacts and vibrations.

Some tasks, like operating packaging-dispensing machines, should see gloves paired with protective sleeves and specialized task-specific versions. These protect workers from lacerations from the cutting blades. Some gloves are woven with nontraditional materials for greater protection, like metal mesh.

Chemical Protection

OSHA’s Code of Federal Regulations requires employers to “select and require employees to use” hand protection in all situations involving identified hazards (1910.138(a)). The regulations also require employers to evaluate the nature of these hazards and match the danger of the task with appropriate and specific hand protection products (1910.138(b)).

Material Safety Data Sheets (SDS) often provide recommendations for hand protection levels. When evaluating products on the market, consider factors such as:

  • Type and concentration of chemical
  • Temperature of chemical
  • Duration and type of exposure — i.e., immersion vs. splashes
  • Level of grip and dexterity required for the task
  • Degree of protection (hand, forearm, entire arm, etc.)

Manufacturers should make it simple to find their laboratory results and match protective equipment to specific tasks. The industry regulations and associations informing their product design should be apparent. If these things are not in evidence, they may not be the best safety partner.

Other Hand Protection Considerations

Other factors should be considered when ensuring workers’ hand safety. Companies should keep these additional safety precautions in mind.

Choosing Different Tools

In some cases, it’s possible to think beyond hand protection and choose a slightly different tool that further reduces the chances of sustaining injury.

Some cutting and shaping tools, including blades, are designed to make glove penetration and worker injury even less likely than with traditionally shaped implements.

It’s also important to note that not all gloves boasting puncture resistance keep workers safe from certain tools, such as needles. If especially hazardous or physically dangerous products are handled or processed at your facility, ensure your disposal/transport containers and hand protection are up to the task.

Factoring in Environmental Protection

The best hand protection products should be designed with their environmental impact in mind. Hand protection is ultimately a disposable product category, but that doesn’t mean single use in every case.

The material sciences improve regularly. If it’s been some time since your purchasing agents shopped around for more environmentally friendly hand and arm protection, this may be the moment. Durability and material choice should be top-tier concerns. Buying products that last longer often provides a better ROI and minimizes landfill waste.

Creating Adequate and Ongoing Training

Material interventions and investments in hand safety are usually the focus while training takes the back seat. This is a mistake.

Hand and arm safety should focus on new-worker onboarding and refresher training modules delivered regularly for everyone else. Do not make this an afterthought. Workers will sometimes complain about protective equipment impeding their work, which underscores the importance of matching the glove to the task — and the nature of personal responsibility in a facility or on a work site.

Identify the best and most relevant workplace safety training experiences and courses available to you. Take employee concerns seriously and work to improve processes and protections within reason. Don’t sacrifice sound legal or ethical footing to save money or time.

For Hand Protection, Leave Nothing to Chance

Take time to understand the form and function of site and facility safety signage, and be sure workers understand their significance, too. No detail is too small to ignore or a hazard too insignificant to avoid.

Workplace safety is an individual mandate, but positive examples must come from the top. The right intentions and investments will create a lasting safety culture that sustains itself. WMHS

Jane Marsh covers topics in green technology and manufacturing. She also works as the Editor-in-Chief of  environment.co.

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