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Seven Ways to Shore Up Your Hand Safety Program
It’s often said that hand injuries are the number one preventable workplace injury. According to a recent Department of Labor study, fingers and hands accounted for more than 23 percent of all injuries and they ranked second to back and neck injuries in terms of lost workdays. Most employees who suffered injuries were not wearing gloves or were wearing the wrong kind of gloves. In addition, as common occurrences, many hand injuries go unreported but adversely affect production, productivity, and the worker’s quality of life.
Here are seven ways to strengthen your hand safety program:
- Revisit hazard assessmentsAs PPE, gloves are the last line of defense in the hierarchy of controls. It may be time to reevaluate the hand safety program using the hierarchy of controls. As a reminder, the hierarchy of control ranks safeguards to protect workers from hazards, going from the most to least effective: 1 – Elimination, 2 – Substitution, 3 – Engineering Controls, 4 – Administrative Controls, 5 – PPE. Employers should explore new technologies and all possible engineering and work practice controls to prevent hazards and only use PPE, like gloves, to provide additional protection against hazards that cannot be eliminated through other means.
Far too often, gloves are chosen based on what’s been done in the past. New technology has improved durability, dexterity, reliability, and fit. Selecting the right gloves is challenging given the variety of potential occupational hand injuries. An updated hazard assessment can anticipate dangers and help identify gloves specifically designed for the hazards and tasks as well avoid high OSHA penalties.
- Keep useful dataData is important, but it must be relevant. Lagging indicators such as recordable injuries, type of incident, time of day, and PPE usage at time of incident are helpful to identify trends and problem areas. But it’s also important to identify leading indicators to anticipate danger. These can include near misses, safety training hours and participation, PPE usage, and incident investigations.
Carefully assess your PPE usage, costs, and how long it lasts. Look at style numbers and sizes. Depending upon the operation, it may make sense to review this by shift or task.
- Take the time to properly evaluate the costIf two gloves satisfy all the basic safety requirements for your workplace and one is significantly less expensive, it may seem like a no-brainer to choose it. But it’s important to look at durability in terms of work hours and figure a cost per hour. When workers are going through gloves once a day or even a few times a shift, the number of gloves they throw away multiplies the cost. Versatility is also a consideration, particularly if your workers operate in multiple environments throughout their day. New advances in palm coatings can make a difference in how workers efficiently get the job done while working in a variety of conditions. Comfort is another consideration. Workers won’t wear gloves if they are uncomfortable and the cost of injury will far outweigh the cost of the proper glove.
- Run sample trials with employeesChange rarely comes easily. When selecting a new glove, it’s critical to get worker feedback and the best way is with sample trials. The specs will identify if the gloves offer adequate protection against the hazard, but it is equally important to ensure that the gloves will be worn. Make the employees feel they are part of the solution and get their feedback on the efficiency with which the gloves allow them to perform their tasks.
- Make it convenient for employeesWhen employees change tasks, the variety of glove options, even within a single facility, can be confusing. Employers need to identify the intended purpose of each glove and employees should have easy access to the right glove for the task at hand.
Superior Glove offers these suggestions:
- Place a box of gloves or a glove vending machine in an easily accessible area closer to the work site
- Hang specialized gloves on glove boards, labeled by task, so workers can choose the correct gloves
- Provide clips for workers to keep their gloves hanging from their belts for easy access when gloves are not being used.
Some employers require employees to turn in old gloves before they can get a new pair or lock up the gloves. Employees should be trained on inspecting gloves before each use to ensure that they are not torn, punctured, or made ineffective in any way. Reuse of chemical-resistant gloves should be evaluated carefully, taking into consideration the absorptive qualities of the gloves. When gloves have impaired protective ability, employees should be able to discard and replace them easily. The more barriers employees encounter, the less likely they are to use the PPE.
- Don’t underestimate the importance of proper fit for womenA recent poll by the J. J. Keller Center for Market Insights revealed despite growing numbers of women in jobs that require PPE, women still have trouble finding PPE that fits them well and 75 percent said ill-fitting PPE impacts their feeling of safety on the job. Decreased grip from larger-than-needed gloves leads to accidents and failure to offer appropriate PPE makes a worker feel less valued.
- Recognize cultural and language barriersDifferent countries have different safety standards and some workers may not realize that the job is dangerous. Use visual aids, signage, hands-on demonstrations, and training in their language to ensure that all workers understand the hand safety program.
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