Holding On to Hand Safety

Every year, about one million US workers receive emergency hospital treatment for acute Land serious hand, finger, and wrist injuries. Unfortunately, in one recent year, almost 8,000 of these injuries resulted in amputations. 

According to OSHA, close to 70 percent of victims experiencing hand, finger, and wrist injuries were not wearing proper PPE. The other 30 percent wore gloves or PPE that were inadequate, damaged or wrong for the type of work being performed. OSHA now requires employers to determine the most appropriate types of PPE for employees’ hands based on the specific work conditions and potential workplace hazards of the task to be performed. 

Many employers have found success in having their employees conduct their own hazard assessment for hand safety. It makes sense that involving employees in the assessment process increases their safety awareness. For example, when opening a discussion about hand safety, ask the employees to list all the ways their hands might be injured on a particular job. This list might include 

  • cuts, lacerations, punctures, and even amputations; abrasions from rough surfaces; 
  • broken fingers and bones in the hand; 
  • chemical burns and severe skin irritation; 
  • thermal burns from touching extremely hot objects; and absorption of hazardous substances through unprotected skin.

A study by the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety found that wearing gloves reduces hand injuries by 60 percent. Although gloves will help protect against many of the above hazards, no glove protects against all hazards. You must select the right gloves for the hazards of the specific job.

The Right Glove So, how do you select the right gloves for the job? As with any PPE selection process, the first step is to conduct a risk assessment to identify and understand the potential hazards. Identify the substances (particulates, liquids, and gases) present in the work site and the hazards associated with these substances. Survey the work site and list all physical and environmental hazards such as sharp instruments, rough surfaces, or machinery. Also, make a list of employees who will be wearing the gloves, the work each person will do, and what equipment will be used. Keep in mind that some hand injuries (lacerations, crushing, broken bones, amputations) cannot be prevented by gloves.

Gloves should be evaluated by the following criteria: 

  • mechanical protection: resistance to cuts, punctures, and abrasions:  chemical protection;
  • full protection: no holes or tears; 
  • heat and flame protection; 
  • cold protection; 
  • vibration reduction; 
  • dexterity for the job at hand; and 
  • voltage rating. 

In addition, consider other hand protection features such as length, size, coverage area, type of cuff, surface finish, and any attributes affecting function or comfort. Also consider the materials the gloves are made of. Select gloves that offer the optimal combination of features and performance. Periodically reevaluate your choices with your employees.

When it comes to the materials gloves are made from, keep in mind that some people may be sensitive to the proteins found in latex, Latex sensitivity is an issue that has prompted the glove industry to find alternative materials. Gloves are now made of materials such as vinyl, nitrile, and neoprene. 

Perhaps the best place to begin when choosing appropriate hand protection is the ANSI/ ISEA 105 Standard for Hand Protection Classification, developed by the American National Standards Institute and the International Safety Equipment Association. The standard addresses the classification and testing of hand protection for specific performance properties related to chemical and industrial applications, 

For additional safety information, see the OSHA regulations regarding hand protection: https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDSáp id=9788,

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