Hand Protection in Construction and Manufacturing Environments

By William Soellner, Contributor

If you research the numerous hand protection standards set by the ASTM and EN388 regulatory testing organizations, you will find at least 15 standards that apply to hand protection. These standards measure everything from cut resistance to puncture, impact, thermal and chemical resistance, and other potential hazards. They set and regulate test proceeds so we can evaluate the various hand protection products available to protect workers from these hazards.

Along with keeping workers safe from potential injury, the use of gloves to protect workers’ hands can reduce the type and severity of injuries, increase worker productivity and keep workers comfortable on the job. Since the type of injuries and hazards are similar in both construction and manufacturing environments, the glove solutions are similar in both industries. The cost of a lost-time injury to the hands runs between $6,000 and $12,000 average, depending on the severity of the injury and how long it takes the worker to get back to work. Severe injuries can result in OSHA actions and legal fees, in addition to medical expenses. Coupled with lost time of experienced and skilled workers, no employer wants to risk on-the-job hand injuries.

Types of injuries typically experienced in both construction and manufacturing environments:

  1. Cuts and abrasions. Sharp and rough edges are found in both work scenarios. Sheet metal, glass, rebar, rough stone and concrete, and the use of sharp tools all create the same cut and abrasion hazards. The sharpness of the hazard (a knife as opposed to rough edged metal) will be a factor in how bad an injury can take place. Repeated handling of a sharp object can weaken even the strongest protective glove material. Each job needs to be evaluated for past injury history, common sense review, known hazard levels (“Hey! That metal is razor sharp! Be careful!”) and the degree of worker training and experience in the particular job. The recent advent of nine levels of cut resistance measurement has resulted in many choices for worker protection. Look for comfort, dexterity and the proper level of cut resistance for the job.
  2. Dropping of heavy objects. Dexterity and grip come into glove selection. If a worker is handling heavy objects like castings or stone, grip and the dexterity are especially important. The right glove coating needs to be used to enhance wet and dry grip while still being comfortable. Materials like foamed latex or nitrile can offer exceptional grip and the new “sandy” finishes increase the abrasion resistance for longer glove life.
  3. Puncture hazards. Are pointed materials present? Nails, fasteners, fittings and glass all can cause serious injury. Will the glove material be adequate to protect? Simple, common materials like leather and latex on the gripping surfaces can offer just enough puncture protection for a given job function. For extreme puncture hazards, specialized anti-puncture gloves are recommended.
  4. Chemical hazards. Are cleaning agents (caustics or solvents) being used? Are there petrol-chemical oils, lubricants or drying agents like grouts and cements present? All these substances can cause burns, skin absorption issues, dermatitis or other skin related injuries. Choosing the right glove for those hazards reduces both short- and long-term injuries. It is important to evaluate any chemicals present and refer to the chemicals MSDS sheet for the proper protection required. Polymers including latex, nitrile, PVC, Viton, PVA, neoprene and butyl rubber all have specific chemical resistance and test data that helps workers choose the right gloves.
  5. Thermal hazards. It is interesting to note that insulation works both ways. Thermal insulation protects against both extreme heat and extreme cold. It is the choice of the glove design and the insulation material being used that determine the right glove for the job. Worker comfort and protection from burns and frost bite are obviously the desired results.
  6. Impact hazards. The occurrence of pinch and crush injuries has been noted for many years. Hammer strikes, rolling tubes, pipes and cylinders, and couplings all create difficult-to-avoid injury scenarios. Assembly of fitted units like scaffolds and pipe joints all can be hazards. One of the newest glove standards, ANSI/ISEA 138, measures the striking force of an object against back of hand protective cushions. There is now a wide variety of products available to reduce hand impact.
  7. ARC/flame and electrical shock hazards. These injury hazards are being reviewed and cautioned more today than ever. While there have been long standing regulations of products used for preventing electric shock from close work with live current electricity, there has been continuous improvement in hand protection against electric arc flash and flame injury. With the advent of more electric vehicles, tools and electronic controls this is an ever-increasing area for review and evaluation.

The best way the protect workers’ hands is to get a qualified glove expert to evaluate the job, the hazards and the gloves currently used and the workers compliance in using the gloves. It is proven that wearing the right glove on the job reduces injuries by at least 60%. It only makes sense to work toward compliance of use by getting the worker involved in glove choice, from testing and trying the right gloves for the job. Comfort, dexterity and picking the right glove for the hazards present will keep workers safe and productive. WMHS

William Soellner is Director of Sales & Marketing at United Glove, a family-owned manufacturer of hand protection with sales throughout the U.S. He has more than 30 years’ experience in the safety industry and has worked for seven major manufacturers and two major specialty industrial distributors. Soellner has a BA from Western Michigan University, a Certificate of Innovative Distribution from Purdue University and a Certificate of Developmental Sales Coaching from Richardson Sales Training (www.unitedglove.com).