Give Employees a Hand: A Guide to Safety Gloves
Do you know what type of injury resulted in almost 43% of the injuries causing days away from work in 2018?
It’s hand and finger injuries. Yes, cuts, burns, and skin diseases on workers’ hands send more than a million people to the emergency room each year. And according to OSHA, 70.9% of those injuries were preventable through simple interventions like safety gloves and other hand PPE.
How do you choose from the thousands of safety gloves on the market? There’s no need to throw a dart at the PPE catalogue and hope for the best.
Use this guide for a quick refresher on OSHA hand protection rules, an intro to choosing gloves, and Safesite’s best tips for making the most of your PPE budget.
Understanding OSHA Hand Protection Rules
OSHA CFR 1910.138 is the standard governing hand protection. It states that employers must require employees to wear hand protection when employees’ face exposure to hazards.
Some of these common hand hazards include:
- Skin absorption of harmful substances leading to systematic effects like organ damage or cancer
- Severe cuts or lacerations from cutting equipment, hand tools, broken glass, or sharp edges
- Severe abrasions from sanders, belts, rotating shafts, or rough surfaces
- Punctures from tools, wood and metal slivers, or medical/laboratory equipment
- Chemical burns from acids, caustics, and other potent substances
- Thermal burns from welding, cutting, and other hot work
- Thermal burns from working near steam equipment, cooking equipment, or ovens
- Harmful temperature extremes leading to frostbite or burns
- Skin diseases
- Line-of-fire injuries
- Stress from repetitive use
The second part of the 1910.138 standard lays out the requirements for choosing hand protection. Employers should choose PPE based on:
- the tasks the employee performs
- conditions present in the work environment
- duration of use
- hazards and potential hazards found in the Job Hazard Analysis (JHA)
Determining Workplace Hazards
According to OSHA, 70% of workers don’t wear hand protection. Even when they do, 30% of workers clock in with a pair of gloves that don’t match the task.
A JHA provides helpful information to guide you in finding workplace hazards and choosing the right safety gloves. The assessment outlines all the hazards present for your employees and gives you a starting point to figure out what hazards you can remove entirely and control through the hierarchy of controls.
Once you work your way through the hierarchy of controls, you can then use PPE to mitigate the remaining risk. You should also look at these additional sources to help find out what hazards are present:
- Employee feedback
- Non-routine operations
- Accident records
Nothing’s better than first-hand experience and feedback from the employees, especially when combined with JHAs and risk assessments.
Gathering feedback is also a great time to ask about any possible barriers employees might have regarding PPE. For example, some employees might be allergic to latex and unable to wear latex safety gloves.
Having employee requirements and preferences upfront can go a long way in picking the right gloves.
When planning glove use, keep non-routine operations in mind, such as maintenance and cleaning. Even though these activities aren’t part of standard job procedures, they can still pose risks and expose workers to hazards. For example, an employee may not come into contact with chemicals during their daily tasks, but they may interact with harsh cleaning chemicals once or twice a week during cleaning.
Looking through past accident records can be extremely helpful in discovering hazards present in the workplace and safety program weakensses.
In particular, you want to look for hand and finger injuries that occurred but didn’t necessarily make it onto the OSHA 300 log. These injuries are sometimes flukes, but they can also be a symptom of a wider problem or of a more severe incident waiting to happen.
Review accident records on a regular basis to look for potential improvements.
Choosing the Right Safety Glove
Once you understand the guidelines governing hand protection and discover the hazards present to your workers, you can start the process of selecting the right PPE.
Safety gloves are the most common hand hazard PPE and come in a huge number of styles, types, and varieties. Other types of PPE for hands and arms include finger guards and arm coverings.
All you need to do is match the hazards and safety needs with the gloves that fit each employee and each type of job they perform that require PPE.
You’ll want to take note of:
- Areas of the hands and arms requiring protection
- Hazardous materials in the environment
- e.g., chemicals or abrasives
- Resistance experienced during the job
- Nature of contact of the hazard
- e.g., total immersion and splash
- Duration of contact with hazards
- Grip requirements for each type of job
Keeping the employee safe should be your priority. Still, you should also take comfort into account choosing gloves with:
- Proper grip
- Size and fit
- Comfortable seams (inside versus outside)
Check the manufacturer’s use instructions to help you determine whether the glove is a good fit for your employee’s needs. Every safety glove comes with instructions that will help you narrow down the choices, but don’t be afraid to ask your supplier for recommendations.
You’ll also want to take a closer look at the risk levels for each type of glove under consideration. For example, using an ANSI level 4 glove for a job that only requires a level 2 glove will provide extra protection, but that glove may not be the right fit for the job or the workers. For example, a glove with too much protection could restrict their hand movement and impair their ability to do their job.
Types of Safety Gloves
Using the information and data you gather from JHAs, employee feedback, and records, you can narrow down the type of gloves each employee needs for their jobs.
You’ll find four primary types of safety gloves:
1. Leather, Canvas, and Metal Mesh
- Leather: protect against sparks, moderate heat sources, blows, chips and rough objects.
- Aluminized: offer reflective and insulating protection against heat; inserts protect against heat and cold.
- Aramid fiber: give the user protection against heat, cold, cuts and abrasions; provide long-term protection.
- Synthetic: protect against heat, cold, cuts, abrasions, and some diluted acids.
2. Fabric and Coated Fabric
- Fabric gloves: provide protection against dirt, slivers, chafing, and abrasions but do not work well with rough, sharp, or heavy materials.
- Coated fabric gloves: typically made from cotton with napping or plastic on one side to provide extra grip and slip-resistance for handling materials like bricks, wire, and chemical laboratory containers.
3. Chemical- and Liquid-Resistant
- Natural/Latex: comfortable to wear and offer tensile strength, elasticity, temperature resistance, and abrasion resistance. Also protect against water solutions of acids, alkalis, salts, and ketones.
- Butyl: synthetic rubber protects against many chemicals, including rocket fuel, corrosive acids, strong bases, alcohols, and esters. Butyl also remains pliable at low temperatures and protects against oxidation, ozone corrosion and abrasion.
- Neoprene: synthetic rubber good for workers who need pliability and finger mobility; provide high tear resistance and protection against hydraulic fluids, gasoline, alcohols, organic acids and alkalis.
- Nitrile: made of a copolymer with protection against chlorinated solvents, oils, greases, acids, caustics, and alcohols; stand up to heavy use and prolonged exposure.
Note: Generally, gloves with thicker material offer more protection, but the thicker materials may also mean less grip and maneuverability.
4. Insulating Rubber
- Made of dielectric rubber, these are most commonly used by workers working with electricity as they protect against electrical hazards. Insulated rubber gloves receive a categorization by voltage class and whether they are resistant to ozone or not.
Managing Safety Glove Usage and Maintenance
It’s one thing to buy a batch of gloves and hand them out to workers when they arrive. Managing those gloves is a different challenge entirely. You want employees to wear the gloves, use them correctly, and stop your entire inventory from vanishing into thin air.
Here are a few tips for making your hand safety PPE program a success.
Budgeting for Gloves
As with other PPE, you’ll need to include a line item in your budget for safety gloves.
When it comes to safety gloves, the most expensive product doesn’t necessarily indicate the highest quality.
As long as your gloves meet OSHA’s standards, choose the gloves that best fit your needs and budget without automatically opting for the most expensive ones.
Before you commit and buy, ask manufacturers for samples and run field tests to see what types and brands will work best for your company’s needs. Allow your employees to try them out for job function, comfort, and fit.
The most expensive gloves you buy aren’t those with the highest price tag. Rather, the gloves that bust budgets are the ones you purchase and find your team doesn’t wear.
Training Employees on Proper Usage and Maintenance
It’s not enough to go out and buy the right hand protection; you have to train your employees on the correct ways to use the PPE. One size doesn’t fit all in any sense. A glove designed for one task won’t necessarily work for others.
Training should include comprehensive instruction on:
- the hazards present for each job
- choosing the right glove to protect against each risk
- why it’s important to use the right glove to protect themselves
Safety glove training should also include reminders to wear gloves the whole time an employee is doing a particular task — no one starts the day without gloves!
Everyone should through safety glove training to ensure that everyone, including leadership, buys into safety and wears PPE when on site.
PPE inspection training is another key component of a hand safety training program. Before putting on their gloves, every employee should inspect both gloves for tears, rips, and other issues that could lead to failure. Safety managers or other managers in charge of safety should also perform consistent audits and inspections of every worker’s PPE.
Any PPE found with damage — including discoloration, unusual stiffness, holes, snags, or tears — should be immediately replaced.
Managing Safety Glove Inventory
It’s frustrating to spend time finding the perfect gloves that meet your budget only to find half the gloves missing in a few weeks. PPE budgets don’t grow on trees!
You can’t prevent all gloves from walking away, but you can create an inventory plan to manage your PPE and know how many you have at the end of the day. Your plan should include strategies for stocking, distributing, and managing your stock of PPE.
If your employees use multiple types of gloves, then a paper or digital inventory with signout sheet is a good place to start to track what gloves they used and what’s left in stock.
When your company uses a large number of standard gloves, vending machines can be helpful to stay organized and provide an easy way for workers to access gloves. Combined with inventory control software, PPE vending machines are also an easy way to track inventory.
Check out Safesite’s general PPE guide for more suggestions on managing PPE.
Don’t Let Preventable Injuries Get Out of Hand
Hand and arm hazards are responsible for a huge number of serious injuries and lost time at work. Not only are the vast majority of hand and finger injuries preventable, but OSHA also says employers have an obligation to provide PPE when the risk assessment warrants it.
By using JHAs, employee feedback, and accident records, you can figure out what types of gloves will best fit your employees’ needs and protect against each job’s hazards. But don’t forget: hand and arm PPE also requires a management plan that includes budgeting, training, and managing inventory.
Although there are thousands of options out there, remember that the best safety glove is the one your employees wear and use. So give employees a hand and get started on your hand protection PPE program today!