How to Get Your Hands on the Right Safety Gloves

Hands are the most used tools in the workplace, making their protection from on-the-job hazards critically important to maintaining employee productivity. Hand dangers are around every corner. Depending on the workplace, employees’ hands are endangered from chemicals, abrasive surfaces, splinters, broken glass, and cuts or scrapes, among countless other hazards.

According to the US Department of Labor, injuries to hands accounted for nearly 25 percent of all lost-time industrial injuries — a total of 110,000 annually. Seventy percent of those injuries resulted when an employee was not wearing safety gloves, while the other 30 percent of hand injuries occurred while an employee was wearing the wrong kind of gloves.

Hand injuries are preventable. Safety gloves, correctly sized and engineered with the right materials, will help defend workers from virtually any type of hazard. Unfortunately, employees often have a very limited understanding of how to select a glove properly based on the dangers they confront. The number of glove choices is vast—and the standards governing personal protective equipment, including hand protection—are not always easy to decipher.

Protective gloves, like any safety product, must be selected properly for the specific application. To do so, first conduct a risk assessment by determining the scope of the work, and next, identifying any potential hazards within that scope that may injure employees’ hands. If it is possible to eliminate the identified hazard by engineering or substitution, this is always the best means to protect the employee. If not, gloves should be used only as a last resort, along with other required PPE. Protective gloves tend to be less effective than other control measures but if avoiding contact is impractical or is not enough to protect employees then gloves are needed.

Recognize that an employee may be exposed to more than one hazard. For instance, the jobsite may contain corrosive chemicals or biological exposure, as well as sharp metals, or broken glass. If you are not sure of the hazard or hazards, confer with an Environmental Health & Safety (EHS) coordinator or industrial hygienist. Once gloves are selected, inform employees how to use them properly to protect themselves. Let them know when gloves should be replaced. If the gloves are reusable ask employees to rinse them before removal and tell them how they should be stored.

CHEMICAL-PROOF GLOVES
A principle function of skin is to protect our bodies from exposure to potentially harmful components of the external environment. Skin does this remarkably well, but direct contact with chemicals poses a danger to the skin itself. Chemical reactions to skin can be a burn, dermatitis or chapping. Chemicals can also penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream. Risk varies according to the chemical, its concentration, and time of contact among other safety factors. Refer to the product SDS for specifics. Section 8 of the SDS provides what types of PPE are necessary to protect the user. Section 11 has toxicological information such as potential local skin effects, as well as potential absorption through the skin and resultant acute and chronic effects.

Because different glove materials resist different chemicals, no one glove is suited for all chemical exposures. Dependant on the chemical, gloves can be fabricated with natural rubber, neoprene, nitrile rubber, butyl rubber, polyvinyl chloride, polyvinyl alcohol, Saranex™, Tychem®, Trellchem®. Key factors to review in selecting the material are breakthrough time, degradation and permeation rate. Refer to the glove manufacturer’s test data for details.

OSHA 29 CFR 1910.138 (Hand Protection General Requirements) specifically addresses the need for hand protection or chemical protective gloves. This standard makes it mandatory to assess the job for chemical exposures, and then select the appropriate, chemical protective glove based on material, thickness, length and other traits. ANSI/ISEA 105-2016 is another source of information that provides a consistent, numeric-scale method for manufacturers to rate their gloves against certain contaminants and exposures.

CUT-RESISTANT GLOVES

Tear, puncture, and cut-resistant gloves are often constructed from materials such as high-grade stainless steel Kevlar®, and may feature a mesh aesthetic. Resistant to damage from sharp or abrasive objects such as glass and knives, these gloves are often ergonomically designed for a precise fit.

There are two major global standards used to evaluate the protection levels of work gloves: ANSI/ISEA 105 (U.S. Standard) and EN 388 (EU Standard). Besides Europe, EN 388 is also commonly cited in other parts of the world such as Canada, AUS/NZ and South America. In 2015-2016, significant changes were made to both to ensure consistency between different standards and to reduce the gaps between protection levels. The new ANSI/ISEA 105 scale, characterized by an ‘A’ in front of level numbers from A1 to A9, measures a glove’s performance by the cutting force it can withstand in grams. For instance, an A1 glove can withstand from 200-499 grams of cutting force, while an A9 glove can withstand 6000+ grams of cutting force. When looking at glove specifications, the ANSI cut level will be displayed inside a badge that resembles a shield.

Cut-resistant sleeves, often worn with cut-resistant gloves, extend protection from the wrist up towards the elbow or shoulder.

THERMAL-PROOF GLOVES
Thermal proof gloves protect against extreme temperatures and are fabricated from a variety of materials, including:

Neoprene: Neoprene gloves are used for protection against frost and burn injuries, as in the case of firefighting gloves.

Aluminized Material: Aluminized material is capable of handling and withstanding extremely high temperatures (depending on the specific formula, up to and exceeding 2,000° F). Gloves made of this material are suitable for welding, furnace and foundry, and some laboratory applications.

When choosing the heat-resistant gloves for a task, you’ll need to find out the precise temperature of the object, not just the ambient temperature. For example, an industrial oven might be 1000°F but the object being handled is only 600°F. Also, high temperature gloves are available as either gloves or mitts. Gloves are for applications that require dexterity, while mitts are for applications that require additional insulation for heat protection, added comfort, and longer wear. Heat-resistant gloves should be tested to ASTM F1060-87 (also know as C.H.A.R.) that establishes the maximum temperature at which a person can hold an object for more than four seconds before feeling pain, and for more than 15 seconds before getting a second-degree burn.

On the other end of the temperature spectrum, cold-resistant gloves, commonly known as freezer gloves, protect employee hands from cuts and scrapes, while an inner insulation reduces the risk of frostbite. These gloves do not have the thickness or the high level of insulation associated with a ski type glove since that bulkiness would inhibit grip and dexterity when handling frozen foods. Polyethylene, glass fiber, polyester, and spandex are all used in the construction of cold storage thermal gloves. Water wicking on the glove’s base layer moves moisture away from the skin, helping to keep hands dryer and warmer for a longer period of time.

GLOVES AND MACHINERY
Machinists who are operating rotating machines should not wear gloves. If machinists are working with a CNC machine, a lathe, a knee mill, or a drill press, wearing gloves near a rotating spindle can spell disaster. Machinery must have guards installed or incorporated into their design that prevent hands from contacting the point of operation or other moving parts.

For more information on choosing the right PPE for machinists, please check out this blog.

GLOVE MAINTENANCE
Like any tool, gloves must be treated properly for them to perform their function. Protective gloves should be inspected before each use to ensure that they are not torn, punctured or made ineffective in any way. A visual inspection will help detect cuts or tears but a more thorough inspection by filling the gloves with water and tightly rolling the cuff towards the fingers will help reveal any pinhole leaks. Gloves that are discolored or stiff may also indicate deficiencies caused by excessive use or degradation from chemical exposure.

Wearing the right safety gloves is instrumental in preventing different workplace hand injuries, including cuts, punctures, burns, or abrasion injuries. It also saves costs incurred by the company each time a hand injury occurs, such as medical expenses that average $6,000 and lost-time compensation expenses that average $7,500. Hand injuries send more than one million workers to the emergency room each year. Your employees cannot afford to go barehanded or be wearing the wrong gloves, not when the cost of one preventable incident far exceeds the cost of an entire hand protection program.

Bye-Bye Boomers: What Retiring Machinists Mean to Plant Safety

Within the next decade approximately 2.7 million Baby Boomers (1946-1964) will retire, thereby ensuring that tens of thousands of positions will become available without a ready supply of American workers to fill them. Statistics paint an especially gloomy picture for the manufacturing sector, and the resulting widening of the skills gap as young replaces old.

Compared to the rest of the economy, the impact on manufacturing of this generational shift is over sized because of two reasons: One, despite increased efforts by colleges and vocational schools to train new manufacturing workers, available jobs still outpace qualified employees. And two, the existing manufacturing workforce is considerably older than the national employee average of 42 years. Currently, the average age of highly-skilled manufacturing employees is 56, and nearly a third of all manufacturing professionals are over 50. As they retire, knowledge goes out the door with them.

What are the implications of these trends for your plant’s productivity? How will it impact employee safety? What can you do to transfer knowledge from one generation to the next?

SAFETY KNOWLEDGE GAP
Besides having less experience operating machinery correctly, workers new to the job are often unsure about their safety rights and responsibilities, or might feel uncomfortable speaking out about a potential hazard. They may also not have the proper training, so they underestimate the risks involved with operating high-speed machinery. A recent survey of machinists in North America exposed that 70 percent could not recall receiving any formal training when they first hired on.

Equally troubling, the Millennials (1980-1996), who are replacing Baby Boomers, are more apt to job hop — 90 percent expect to stay in a job for less than three years, leaving manufacturers with heightened turnover and a badly depleted knowledge base, especially when it comes to safety.

Given all this, it probably comes as little surprise that employees under the age of 25 are twice as likely to visit the emergency room for an occupational injury than those over 25. The dangers facing younger workers underscore the critical importance of machine safeguarding. The lathe, press or saw on the plant floor considered “safe” solely on the basis of being accident free for many years is no guarantee that modern safety standards are being met. Seasoned machinists may have developed workarounds that prevented accidents. Worse yet, the machinist may have covered up small accidents they’d suffered, considering an occasional nick or scratch simply part of the job. Your “safe” machine may be the most dangerous on the floor.

Step One: Safeguarding
Faced with the wave of Baby Boomer retirements, many manufacturers are trying to hold on to their older workers, persuade some to return after retirement or recruit those retired from other companies. Unfortunately, these steps only postpone the inevitable. A more successful, long-term answer is having your plant’s machinery subject to a thorough risk assessment process.

A risk assessment draws on the expertise and experience of an outside company to identify machine hazards before they cause accidents. Over the course of the assessment, detailed information is collected concerning each machine, its operator and the process it is tied to. Hazardous areas are pinpointed on the machine with a risk level assigned to each potential danger. Evaluating this risk level helps determine if further safeguarding methods should be applied to the machine to make it safe. If a risk is not tolerable, safeguarding measures need to be applied that will reduce the risk to an acceptable level that is in accordance with national, regional and local regulations. The risk assessor should also accurately identify all costs associated with the final project. After installing safeguards, a follow-up assessment will be conducted to verify that risk levels have been reduced to a code-compliant, tolerable level that will not threaten the safety of less experienced employees.

Step Two: Transferring Tribal Knowledge

Retirees won’t leave behind every bit of knowledge they’ve gained over the years, but capturing a majority of the important nuggets will be beneficial down the road. Your organization needs to find ways of capturing this “tribal” knowledge before the machinist hangs up their hat and heads for the white sandy beaches of retirement. One common way of doing so is implementing a structured mentoring program pairing young workers with senior people who are technically expert in complex machinery. Along with face-to-face training on the machinery, the experienced worker is there to answer questions about operating procedures that are unclear or not understood, and to help the young worker learn the ropes of a new job. Recognizing hazards and learning safe work practices must be central part of mentoring programs so make sure they are given equal billing with productivity during conversations. Mentors can also play an important role in informing young workers of their OSHA rights to a safe workplace, as well as the right to refuse unsafe work. Once retired, the mentor can return on a part-time or as needed basis to continue training new hires.

TRAINING
While older machinists certainly have the experience and technical knowledge, they may not know how to teach because they aren’t professional trainers or they can’t communicate effectively with a younger generation. Others may feel that training is an additional obligation that has been hoisted upon them when they are already crunched for time.

Hiring an outside firm to teach young employees about machine safety overcomes those problems. Rockford Systems offers Machine Safeguarding Seminars at its Rockford Systems Training Center in Rockford, Illinois. The popular 2.5-day seminars combine classroom discussion with live demonstrations on fifteen machines set up to give the hands-on experience that new employees need. Once the seminar is complete, the employee will be enable to interpret the OSHA 29 CFR 1910 and ANSI B11 Series Standards as they relate to their specific machine applications and production requirements, perhaps better than the retired operator they are replacing.

AGAIN, IMPORTANCE OF RISK ASSESSMENTS & SAFEGUARDING
A perfect storm has formed, making it increasingly difficult for manufacturers to find and train labor. The retirement of the Baby Boom generation only makes matters more challenging. To ensure plant productivity and safety needs are continuously met despite retirements, take proactive steps by conducting a risk assessment of machines, work to promote the transfer of knowledge, and install code-compliant safeguarding equipment.