Rule Of Thumb

Hand injuries account for roughly one-third of all occupational injuries, one-quarter of all lost time at work and one-fifth of all disability claims. As a result, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has some specific regulations and requirements regarding the use of hand protection in the construction industry. Proper selection and use of hand protection and gloves can drastically reduce the risk of such injuries.


Unfortunately, choosing the wrong hand protection can be just as dangerous as not wearing any at all. For example, a lineman was recently killed after removing his rubber gloves and attempting to work on a live transformer with only a pair of cotton gloves. This incident demonstrates the importance of following these simple steps when choosing personal protective equipment (PPE) for the hands: Assess the workplace needs and potential hazards, review the available products and protections available, get the right fit, train, inspect, maintain and care.


There is not one glove or PPE that protects in all situations. Electrical workers might be familiar with safeguards available against electrical hazards. However, it is important to understand that other hazards could be encountered on any given job. Workers could suffer abrasions, cuts or scrapes resulting from rough or sharp edges. They may also encounter puncture threats, moving mechanical parts, open flames, hazardous temperatures, chemical compounds, or viral and blood-borne pathogens. 


There are gloves and other PPE to mitigate injuries when working with each of these hazards. Common materials for hand protection and protective gloves include cotton, leather, vinyl, nitrile, latex, PVC, neoprene, butyl, Viton, Hypalon, Kevlar, Dyneema, Spectra, polyvinyl alcohol and others.


To assess a job site’s specific hand hazards, it might be prudent to walk around the site with a glove manufacturer or supplier to address specific needs. PPE companies typically offer this service for free. Manufacturer’s representatives are trained to help potential clients make the right choices. 


This also provides an opportunity to review the choices on the market. Manufacturers typically will come to the job site with an array of available products and samples to enable employees to try them on. That experience, along with some additional research, will help guide proper PPE selection for a particular job.


As a side note, pricing should never factor into the decision when trying to choose and purchase PPE. In fact, cheaper products often will not last as long and end up costing the company more money in the long run.


Although price does not factor into choosing the appropriate PPE, getting the right fit does. Just like there is not one glove to offer protection in all situations, there is not a one-size-fits-all solution either. Making sure that a glove or hand protection fits properly is as easy as grabbing a tape measure and measuring around the hand across the palm, excluding the thumb.


In addition to procuring well-fitting hand protection, training is a crucial element to safeguarding workers. It is imperative that all users and their supervisors know when, where and how to use the PPE and hand protection that their company provides. This awareness may also be helpful if and when further hand protection is needed.


Even the most chemical-resistant or highest electrically resistant gloves will wear down over time. Different types of gloves have different inspection, testing and maintenance requirements. For example, electrically resistant rubber gloves must be tested at a minimum of every six months, and they must be visually inspected prior to each use. Therefore, it is important to train workers on the proper care, use and inspection of their hand protection and PPE. 


As a general rule of thumb, gloves should typically be stored in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. Also, users should take proper care of PPE. For example, some types of gloves can be laundered, and others must be disposed of after a single use. Reusable gloves and PPE can become contaminated or compromised as a result of an incident and need to be discarded. Therefore, it is important to establish contamination procedures that include hand protection. Using damaged or defective gloves or PPE can result in serious injury or even death. Any damaged or defective hand protection or other PPE should be removed from service immediately. 


These safety tips can help prevent hand injuries and guide purchase and use of hand protection. If you have additional questions, contact a PPE provider. There are also a number of valuable resources and training supplements pertaining to hand protection and PPE available on www.osha.gov.

About the Author

Tom O'Connor

Safety Columnist

Tom O'Connor is safety and regulatory affairs manager for Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Reach him at toconnor@intecweb.com.

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