Various tasks and activities in the workplace can endanger workers’ hands. For example, workers’ hands could be cut by sharp materials, injured by hazardous substances or at risk of electrical shocks. If those hazards can’t be eliminated, safety regulations may require employers to provide appropriate PPE to protect workers’ hands. The types of available hand protection vary from basic leather or cotton work gloves to rubber gloves and metal mesh gloves. To ensure that your workers’ hands are adequately protected and that you comply with the hand protection requirements, take these five basic steps.
Step #1: Determine if Hand Protection Is Required
Safety regulations typically require hand protection when workers’ hands are at risk of injury or exposured to hazards such as:
Punctures, cuts, irritations, burns or abrasions;
Fractures or amputations;
Contamination or infection;
Contact with a hazardous, chemical or biological substance;
Contact with an exposed energized electrical conductor;
Exposure to work processes that result in extreme temperatures; and
Injury arising from prolonged exposure to water.
Step #2: Select Appropriate Hand Protection
Many kinds of PPE, such as respiratory, hearing and eye protection, must comply with a designated standard. For example, if a worker may be exposed to electrical hazards, he may be required to use gloves that comply with a standard such as ASTM D120, “Standard Specification for Rubber Insulating Gloves.”
As to other types of hazards that could injure a worker’s hands, you should select the hand protection that’s appropriate for that specific hazard. For example, if the hazard involves contact with hazardous substances, the gloves should be coated to prevent absorption of those substances. If the hazard is exposure to extreme cold, the gloves should keep workers’ hands warm. In addition, consulting a voluntary standard such as ANSI/ISEA 105-2016 Hand Protection Classification is a good idea.
In addition to selecting hand protection that’s appropriate for the hazard, also ensure that you select gloves that are the appropriate size for the workers who’ll be wearing them. If gloves are too big, they won’t adequately protect the worker and may get caught in machinery (more on this issue below). And if gloves are too small or are otherwise uncomfortable, workers may not use them. When selecting hand protection for your workers, keep in mind that you need to balance safety with productivity. That is, gloves should protect workers’ hands, while still allowing them to do their jobs efficiently. For example, gloves shouldn’t interfere with workers’ dexterity or their ability to grip or hold tools and materials.
Step #3: Ensure Use of Hand Protection Doesn’t Create a Hazard
In some cases, the use of hand protection may actually create a safety hazard for workers. For example, wearing gloves while using certain equipment could expose workers to the risk of the gloves getting entangled in the machinery and their hands or arms being injured. In such cases, workers should not wear gloves and the employer must implement alternate safety measures to protect workers’ hands.
Step #4: Set Hand Protection Rules
You should have safety rules on the use of all PPE, including hand protection. These rules should cover, at a minimum:
When the use of hand protection is required—and when not to use it. For example, bar workers from wearing gloves with metal parts near electrical equipment or wearing gloves when they could come into contact with a moving part of a machine;
How to choose appropriate safety gloves, including properly fitting gloves;
How to properly clean and care for gloves, which is usually specified by the manufacturer or supplier;
How to inspect gloves before each use for damage that could make them ineffective. For example, rubber or synthetic gloves should be inflated to test for leaks; and
How to put on and remove gloves to avoid contamination (if appropriate).
In addition to these PPE-related rules, you should also bar workers from wearing rings, which can get caught in machinery and result in various hand injuries, including fractures and amputations.
Step #5: Train Workers
Naturally, you should train workers on all of your PPE rules, including those relating to hand protection. Regularly reinforce such training with toolbox talks and quizzes to ensure that workers understand these rules and know how to apply them on the job when their hands are at risk of injury.
Thousands of times a year, individuals’ hands are injured, disabled or lost because of workplace injury. Failing to ensure that workers wear appropriate hand protection can result in such injuries. So, ensure your safety program’s PPE rules comply with the hand protection requirements and adequately protect workers’ hands from injury.