Any discussion about hand protection PPE (personal protective equipment) is focused on one topic: gloves. If you were looking for a hand protection PPE definition, the simplest one is “gloves”.
But that’s where the simplicity ends. There are many factors to consider to make sure that the gloves you choose are the ones that will actually keep workers’ hands safe.
One factor that needs no consideration is whether or not to use gloves. This is a must in any work situation where hands are at risk of injury. The statistics are overwhelmingly convincing on this point: “According to OSHA, 70.9 percent of arm and hand injuries could have been prevented with PPE, specifically safety gloves,” states an Occupational Health and Safety article about gloves.
Furthermore, OSHA mandates proper PPE for all workers. It’s the law, and it makes sense. The right gloves keep workers’ hands out of harm’s way.
Workplace Circumstances that Require Gloves
Workers hands’ are constantly in use, and many workplaces are rich with hazards that can cause hand injuries. Gloves protect against many of those hazards. Some of the more common reasons workers wear gloves is to protect hands from the following:
- Lacerations and punctures
- Corrosive or toxic chemicals
- Chemical and thermal (temperature) burns
What to Look for in the Right Glove
While some features you need to look for are determined by the type of risk you’re mitigating, one feature is universal when looking for effective safety gloves: they must fit and move well, or at least well enough to perform the task at hand. Gloves that are ill-fitting or impede necessary movements can create more problems than they solve.
One question to ask is, Will your workers need hand and arm protection PPE? If so, look into longer gloves that cover the forearms or even all the way up the arms. Also, how much of a grip do workers need? Some gloves offer extra “grippy” palm material, or material that allows for a good grip in the face of oils and other slippery substances. Is that something that will benefit the safety of your workforce?
Then get into the specifics. What are you protecting your workers’ hands from? This determines the type of gloves you want to provide. Here we look into three major workplace glove categories. Note that some gloves serve multiple needs—for instance, chemically resistant gloves will likely also offer protection against abrasions.
Everyday Work Gloves
Many work environments, like construction sites, warehouses, and industrial workplaces, are rough and pose multiple hand hazards that are present at any given time. That is, just about all tasks can injure your hands: rough and abrasive surfaces, solvents and greases, heavy equipment and tools.
For these environments, you’ll want gloves that allow maximum dexterity, a solid grip, and are durable—workers will likely wear them a lot. Also consider gloves that offer some vibration suppression if your staff uses machinery that causes repeated small impacts to the hands, like a jackhammer. Do the gloves need to be waterproof or water resistant? Is the work environment cold? Hot? Think through the various jobs and circumstances workers face to find the gloves that are best suited to your workforce.
Coated gloves are popular general purpose work gloves, and each type of coating provides its own benefits. This short video explains common options:
For tasks that require the use of cutting tools, there are gloves that offer cut resistance. There are many options in this niche, so it’s important to understand the standards and resistance levels of cut-resistant gloves, to know which ones you need. Of course, it also helps to start with the safest safety knives and tools.
Gloves for Chemical Resistance
Anywhere workers must handle dangerous chemicals, gloves that protect against the specific chemicals they’re exposed to are a must. Coming into contact with corrosive chemicals, or repeated exposure to lower-level toxic substances is certain to cause harm.
Make sure to choose the right gloves and never use gloves with holes or excessive wear: getting chemicals trapped inside a glove via a hole is almost worse than having no glove at all.
Maintenance and Access
Of course, checking for wear isn’t only important in circumstances where workers are exposed to chemicals: worn or punctured gloves are a problem at any worksite. Gloves that are in disrepair have no place in your PPE wardrobes. You or your staff needs to regularly check the conditions of the gloves on hand and replace them as needed.
Access is another consideration: if a worker is in one area and gloves are far away—upstairs, locked in a cabinet, or so forth—the likelihood of that worker taking the time to seek out the gloves diminishes greatly. Make sure gloves are near the action. Removing “barriers to entry”—that is, hurdles your workers have to cross to get to the right PPE—increases the chances of workers staying protected.
Stay Apprised of New Technology
Manufacturers continually look for ways to improve glove technologies. Of course, they want to sell you gloves, but they also want to make sure that your workers stay as safe and as comfortable as possible. If they don’t, it’s unlikely you’ll stay a customer. Gloves get a lot of use and, in many circumstances, wear out relatively quickly. This provides you the opportunity to regularly upgrade or try the latest innovation.
Have workers try new products and provide feedback. Give a glove presentation to workers to educate them about what’s new on the market and about what gloves to use for which circumstances.
The more involved and educated you and your team are about hand protection PPE, the greater the chances hand injuries will become a worry of the past.