The significance of the human hand is remarkable, but often overlooked.
More than a grasping organ, it is a tool, a symbol, a weapon. It helps the blind see, the mute talk, and the deaf hear. It helps express emotions or emphasize ideas when words are inadequate. It can be a gesture of respect, ownership or command. It plays a part in all aspects of life, from the manual to the purely intellectual, and from comprehension to sensory experience.
Hands deserve the protection they need so they can fulfill their purpose.
The phalanges that make up the fingers allow humans to complete minor, intricate tasks, while the metacarpals show incredible strength and resilience even with repetitive, manual labor. With the arms and shoulders providing a wide range of motion, there’s an endless list of things people can do with just their upper limbs.
The specialized musculature and biomechanics of the hands enable people to perform a vast range of tasks. But this can be both a blessing and a curse. If the hands are seriously injured, they may not function the same way ever again; even performing the simplest tasks becomes impossible. And because of the hands' complex nature, repairing hand injuries is often difficult or impossible.
It stands to reason that hand safety should be the top priority of employers and workers, especially those operating in high-risk industries like oil and gas, construction, manufacturing and emergency response.
Occupational Hand Injuries: What You Need to Know
The hand is our most vulnerable extremity. This is due to the prolonged exposure to hazardous situations, especially in industrial settings. And while automation is reducing the amount of manual handling required on the job, the likelihood of workplace injuries to the hand are still quite high.
The most common reported workplace injuries include:
- Cuts or lacerations
- Punctures or severe abrasions
- Strains and sprains
- Chemical and thermal burns
- Harmful temperature extremes
- Overuse and overexertion injuries
The main causes of these injuries are the following:
- Lack or improper use of personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Improper use of tools and equipment
- Lax safety protocols and insufficient training
- Faulty tools and equipment
Oil, Gas and Petrochemical Industries
Jobs in the upstream and downstream sectors are some of the most hazardous in the world. Oil, gas and petrochemical workers face a number of hazards in the stages of energy production, from exploration and production (E&P) to refinery, storage and transportation.
In addition to the threat of fires and explosions, workers also suffer injuries to the hands and fingers on a daily basis when operating machinery and performing other tasks. Caustic substances, extreme temperatures, heavy equipment, sharp implements and job-specific tasks also present threats to the hands and fingers.
The construction industry has multiple requirements for work gloves. This is because workers engage in different tasks and use equipment with varying levels of risk, ranging from nuisance cuts to severe injuries. Workers who use vibrating tools frequently, for instance, are susceptible to Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS), a debilitating injury common among construction workers. Wearing anti-vibration gloves can help prevent this disorder, as they dampen the effect of vibration and resist impact, by providing metacarpal protection for operators of pneumatic tools, jackhammers or rivet guns.
First Responder Community
First responders, such as police officers, firefighters, rescuers and spill response experts are susceptible to hand injuries every day. These jobs require working in dangerous environments and fulfilling perilous tasks to carry out the mission. First responders only get to assess the environment of the job site when they get to the location, making it hard to predict the risks. This is why jobs of this nature require training and safety equipment for all types of potential scenarios.
Hand Safety Equipment: What Makes an Ideal Work Glove?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) asserts that the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) can prevent most injuries in the workplace. Among all the responsibilities of running a business, workers' safety and well-being are paramount. Start by identifying and providing the most appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) to workers.
The perfect work glove is one that can closely mimic the feel and function of a human hand. It should allow the hand to freely perform a variety of tasks, all while protecting its delicate nature from many workplace perils.
The ideal work glove must have some or all of the following qualities:
Manual dexterity is a trait unique to humans. It reflects humans’ mental ability, making us the only species that can pick up and hold a delicate object without dropping or crushing it. The key words here are precision and flexibility. In other words, a quality work glove must have the perfect fit and material so that the hand’s 34 muscles can function with ease and at maximum potential.
Range of Motion
A proper work glove should not restrict the flexion, abduction, extension and hyperextension of the fingers. It should also allow radial and ulnar flexion of the wrist. These motor skills are highly critical to tasks that require careful handling, precision and efficiency. For heavy-duty tasks that require extreme dexterity, it’s best to use a glove that’s flexible and durable at the same time, with tough padding to protect the wearer from punctures and abrasions.
A dexterous hand has a firm grasp, and so should a work glove. The use of coatings, leather or other special fabrics helps enhance the grip of a work glove. This is especially important in jobs that involve handling delicate materials, such as parts assembly, glass handling and construction. High-quality leather can provide a sufficient layer of protection for the palms and knuckles with enough adhesion to fulfill tasks efficiently. Leather also has a good grip in oil, making it an ideal glove material for protecting against industrial hand injuries in oil, gas, petrochemical, automotive and construction applications.
The appropriate cut-resistance level varies across applications, depending on the requirements of the job. There are five levels to classify the resistance of a glove against varying forces or loads. The testing methods used are ASTM: method F1790-04 and ISO (13997).
For jobs that have high to extreme cut hazards, such as sheet metal handling, plate glass handling, heavy metal stamping and meat and poultry, workers should use Level 4 to 5 gloves. For light to moderate glass handling and metal stamping applications, as well as construction, automotive assembly, packaging, parts assembly and some masonry applications, Levels 1 to 3 are most appropriate. The best gloves to prevent cuts are those with split-leather palms and Kevlar-knit glove body.
An effective work glove should provide superior back-of-the-hand protection. For heavy-duty applications where the likelihood of fractures is high, workers must wear anti-impact gloves. Gloves that come with thermoplastic rubbers protect the fingers and back-of-hand from abrasions, punctures, and impact. The best materials used for cut- and impact-resistant gloves are latex, cotton, synthetics, leather, engineered yarns and metal mesh. High-performance work gloves feature one or a combination of these fabrics, along with neoprene or nitrile to increase the chemical stability and flexibility of the glove across wide temperature ranges.
Workers tend to reject work gloves or remove them after a few hours of work because they don’t fit snugly or are not comfortable to wear. When there’s a restriction of movement, the fingers tend to strain. It’s important to have a pair of gloves that can mimic the movement and feel of working with bare hands.
When gloves are uncomfortable or too hot, workers will remove them in the middle of performing a risky task, doubling the risk of injuries. The right glove should be light enough to enhance grip and dexterity but strong enough to protect the wearer from hazards. It should also provide enough warmth, air-tight enough – but not too stuffy – to keep external substances and particles from going in. A pair of gloves designed with ergonomics in mind is a worthy investment as it provides enduring comfort and performance for many years. It also protects the wearer from overuse injuries.
Task-Specific Performance and Protection
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to hand safety equipment. The best work glove is the one that fits the comfort, resistance and performance requirements specific to a task. Fortunately, there’s an array of gloves for light, medium, and heavy-duty applications. For firefighters, for instance, the ideal glove should be lightweight, comfortable and durable enough to protect the hands from thermal burns. These features allow firefighters to handle extremely hot and even burning objects to carry on critical rescue or response missions.
There are other extra features, of course, that companies should look for when choosing the perfect work glove. For example, if workers operate manufacturing machines that have touchscreens, their gloves should have touchscreen compatibility so they don’t have to remove the glove to keep the machine running. This capability also prevents workers from exposing their hands to health and safety hazards.
The best way to know which glove is best for the job is to test it.
There are several ways to test a glove. Keep in mind that the material may respond differently to varying environments. For instance, in oily environments, a porous material or corded cotton will provide better oil grip. For jobs that involve handling chemicals, pharmaceuticals and food, gloves made of airtight neoprene or nitrile are ideal.
Preventing Hand Injuries in the Workplace
The hands are overlooked assets in the workplace. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in its annual occupational safety report that over 41 percent of injuries are related to the hands and fingers. The lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) – whether the workers didn’t wear gloves at all or the pair is inappropriate for the task – is the top cause of these injuries. It is critical to review current PPE and safety standards and enhance compliance in the workplace.
Safety Code and Protocols
Knowing the hazards, following established safety rules to the letter, and wearing PPE are the keys to keeping hand injuries at bay. Safety and PPE regulations are in place to keep hand and other workplace injuries in check. It’s the employer’s job to make sure its workers adhere to these rules. In addition to OSHA standards, there are other state- and industry-specific codes to follow as well.
One of the ways to encourage workers to wear proper PPE is by enforcing the rules consistently and allotting time and resources to refresh workers on these rules. Field managers may conduct weekly huddles or quarterly updates on compliance issues and targets, especially if OSHA rolls out new policies. It also pays to post readable safety checklists or guidelines in visible areas throughout the facility, as well as sections near heavy equipment.
Another proven method is to offer positive reinforcement when employees use proper PPE consistently. Encourage compliant workers to enforce the rules on the job and keep non-compliant workers accountable, and reward them accordingly. Make sure all workers know what your safety concerns and goals are, and provide workers with a platform to report problems or offer suggestions. Guides and reports should also be available to them in physical or digital copies, so they are always top of mind. These ideas can help you meet your safety and PPE compliance goals.
Hand Safety Training
Education is essential in preventing workplace hand injuries. On top of increasing awareness of safety procedures and guidelines, it also helps to recognize the risks and types of hand injuries, what causes them, how to prevent them and how to respond to them. Workers should be aware of how to properly use PPE and why they need it. Whenever new employees join an organization, employers should take the opportunity to conduct periodic training for them.
Given that hand injuries are so common, there’s no excuse for complacency regarding workplace hazards. Employers are responsible for fostering a culture of safety and compliance and reprimanding those who act out of negligence or disregard protocols.
Equipment Maintenance and Handling
Faulty equipment and improper handling could lead to accidents on the job. Routine maintenance and sufficient training are just as necessary as providing appropriate PPE and safety training. In other words, employers must take active measures to make sure that all machines and tools are safe to use and in ideal condition. Workers should also have the choice to refuse to operate a malfunctioning machine and have the platform to report such incidents of negligence from the employer.
To keep equipment hazards at bay, employers must conduct regular risk assessments, pre- and post-inspections and routine maintenance of all equipment in a facility. If the employer is subcontracting the equipment, they must conduct safety audits of the distributed tools. And operators of those tools should have sufficient knowledge of the equipment and how to operate it before deployment to the project.
Responding to Hand Injuries
In some cases, hand injuries are inevitable, even with the strict application of protocol and PPE requirements. Managers on the site or in the facility, as well as coworkers, should have the tools and know-how to respond to an accident and prevent the injury from getting worse.
All employees should be well versed in company policies and procedures for responding to an injury at a work site.
Mounting evidence and awareness of hand injuries have led to the growing adoption of hand safety protocols and the use of personal protective equipment in industrial and high-risk occupations. Even in low and moderate applications, employers are becoming stricter about compliance, given that hand injuries remain widespread. Embracing the following points may help businesses curb this problem.
- Employers have a responsibility to strengthen the company’s health and safety culture, invest in education and training and provide the PPE that each specific task demands. Employers should never compromise the needs, well-being or safety of their employees.
- Employees are responsible for staying compliant with the rules, applying what they learn, noticing coworkers who disregard the rules and filing complaints if the PPE, safety training or equipment maintenance are inadequate.
- Employer and employee must cooperate to prevent and respond to workplace injuries.
While preventing incidents and injuries should be the primary goal of any industrial safety program, PPE is the last line of defense in the prevention and reduction in severity of injuries.
Preventing and minimizing the severity of hand injuries is our number one priority. If you would like to stay up-to-date on all of the latest safety information we put out, sign up for our monthly newsletter by filling out the form to the right of this post.
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