According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 250,000 serious injuries occur each year to hands, fingers, and wrists. About 8,000 of these result in amputations. A worker’s hands are so incredibly critical not only to their career, but also their personal lives. Action can be taken to help minimize the hazards to hands, especially through the use of equipment safety mechanisms, personal protective equipment (PPE), and proper training.
Finding The Right Gloves
There are numerous varieties of gloves. It is important to pick the appropriate glove to protect your employees against workplace hazards. What should be considered when picking out PPE for hands? OSHA outlines the following as important factors to consider when choosing protective gloves:
- Type of chemicals handled
- Nature of contact (total immersion, splash, etc.)
- Duration of contact
- Area requiring protection (hand only, forearm, arm)
- Grip requirements (dry, wet, oily)
- Thermal protection
- Size and comfort
- Abrasion/resistance requirements
The fit of a glove is essential to its value. If your workers are using ill-fitting gloves it may hinder their dexterity, cause efficiency to drop, and/or fail to properly protect from hazards.
Along with defining the hazards, it is also helpful to understand the types of gloves available and their intended use. The National Safety Council outlines the most prevalent types of gloves:
- Cotton and fabric gloves: These can keep hands clean and protect against abrasions, but may not be strong enough to handle work with rough or sharp materials.
- Coated fabric gloves: This type of glove can provide protection against some moderate concentrated chemicals. They can be used in laboratory work provided they are strong enough to protect against the specific chemical being handled.
- Rubber, plastic, or synthetic gloves: These types of gloves can be used when cleaning or working with oils, solvents, and other chemicals.
- Leather gloves: These should be used when welding, as the leather can resist sparks and moderate heat. The risk of cuts and abrasions also can be minimized by wearing leather gloves.
- Aluminized gloves: These gloves are recommended for welding, furnace, and foundry work, as they provide reflective and insulating protection.
- Kevlar gloves: These have a wide variety of industrial applications. They are cut and abrasion-resistant and provide protection against both heat and cold.
- Chemical/liquid-resistant gloves: Several types of gloves help protect against specific chemicals:
- Butyl rubber gloves: nitric acid, sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid, and peroxide
- Natural latex/rubber gloves: water solutions or acids, alkalis, salts, and ketones
- Neoprene gloves: hydraulic fluids, gasoline, alcohols, and organic acids
- Nitrile rubber gloves: chlorinated solvents
It Goes Beyond Picking Out The Proper Gloves
Even if you are able to determine the most appropriate gloves for your workforce, it does not guarantee they will know how to properly use them. It seems simple, you just put on gloves, right? Wrong. There’s more to it than that. It is important for workers to know how to choose the right glove for each task, and especially to pick a glove with the proper fit. Training employees on the importance of frequently inspecting their gloves is also critical. Taking time to implement appropriate training can help decrease your employees’ risk of hand injuries.
Gloves Are Not The Only Answer
Some hazards can be eliminated, or at least lessened, by addressing them at the source. For hand protection, engineering controls can be used to modify the source of the hazard in order to reduce the danger of hand injuries. For example, equipment can be modified or replaced to include defense mechanisms that prevent workers’ hands from coming into contact with a hazard, such as barriers and guards. Adding these mechanisms is just one part of the protection. It is critical to routinely inspect and maintain safety features.
Beyond gloves there are also other forms of personal protective equipment for hands such as finger guards, arm coverings, protective sleeves, or barrier creams. Specifically when working with chemicals, additional hand protection like barrier creams and lotions may be required. There are different kinds made for use with types of chemicals. For example, solvent-repellant creams can help employees who work with solvents, oils, and other organic chemicals.
The statistics don’t lie. And your hands are essential. Let’s keep them safe and protected!