It's no secret that regulations in the United States related to hand protection often seem filled with subjective language that ultimately translates to, "Do the best you can."
Hand injuries in the workplace are a significant issue, accounting for 13 percent of all industrial injuries. Cuts especially can be costly, carrying an average price tag of nearly $22,000 per incident. This isn't a small problem, but the gaps between requirements, needs and behaviors persist.
Nearly half of all workers (43 percent) don't know if the gloves they wear adequately protect their hands. How would they? They're required to wear gloves, but there are no specifications around cut protection, despite the existence of industry-accepted tests that define the level of cut protection a glove provides. Ask the typical worker about the ANSI cut level for the gloves he or she uses every day, and you're likely to see blank stares in return.
But there's hope. While industry-wide regulations fall woefully short, businesses increasingly are taking it upon themselves to better match the glove to the task. We're seeing more and more requests for proposals stipulating specific ANSI cut levels. It's not surprising; after all, successful businesses prioritize two things: (1) their people and (2) sound financial management. Ensuring their workers are equipped with adequate personal protective equipment – thereby avoiding injuries and the big bills that come with them – checks both boxes.
In fact, some businesses are becoming overprotective, insisting on gloves with ANSI cut levels beyond the real needs of the workers for the tasks they're performing. While this is better than rubber-stamping gloves that fail to provide adequate protection, it presents its own set of problems. Most notably, asking workers to wear bulkier, ultra-protective gloves when the job doesn't warrant it can discourage compliance.
Understand this, as it's critical: Workers wear these gloves all day, every day, and they care about three things – comfort, performance and protection, probably in that order.
Protection is critical, but if it starts to infringe on comfort or performance, many workers simply discard those gloves and accept the increased risk of injury. The same is true if the gloves fail to deliver the grip or dexterity needed to do a job well.
Eventually, the worker will find something that works, even if it doesn't protect as well as it should.
For employers, these decisions are part of the larger short-term capital cost vs. long-term TCO calculations that happen every day across most organizations. Employers focused on the short term may take advantage of loose regulations to cut capital costs, while those more inclined to consider TCO may lean toward overprotection in a well-intentioned but ill-informed quest to avoid big-ticket injuries. These choices at both ends of the spectrum are frustrating because they're unnecessary. There are gloves that provide the appropriate cut protection for any job without compromising comfort or performance.
This wasn't always the case. In the past, many protective gloves weren't comfortable, or the most comfortable gloves may not have delivered the best performance. There were tradeoffs everywhere, and eventually businesses and workers just grew to accept these compromises. Unfortunately, old habits die hard, and even though today there are gloves that provide comfort, performance and protection for virtually any job, the unacceptable frequency of cut-related hand injuries suggests many organizations continue to compromise.
Hand Protection Truths
Over the years, through research and conversations with customers, we have identified four truths that do not change:
- Workers want lighter gloves with an emphasis on grip, dexterity and tactility, but they do not want to compromise on cut protection;
- Those selecting gloves are concerned with employee safety and frustrated with glove selection;
- Everyone involved wants increased durability or, alternatively, frequent replacement of worn gloves; and price always is a consideration.
These statements were true 20 years ago and they remain true today. The difference is today technology can deliver on all counts.
Let's start with that fourth point, because it's a biggie. Historically, many of the most effective cut-protection gloves have carried premium price tags, mostly due to the cost of materials. Today, there are innovative yarns developed specifically for cut protection.
These proprietary yarns and other advanced materials and designs make it possible to provide lightweight, breathable gloves with multiple levels of ANSI cut level protection to match the various needs of today's worker. They also offer enhanced features such as a silicon-free coating, dirt- masking colors and improved grip and abrasion resistance.
Making the Right Choice
That brings us back to choices. The various levels of cut protection and different glove designs are tailored to specific tasks. Those tasks and the risks associated with them differ from industry to industry, so employers can and should work with glove manufacturers to find the right gloves for their workers. We've reached a point where compromise isn't necessary. Workers, procurement officers and HR managers all can have what they want: comfort, performance and protection at reasonable costs.
There are many types of gloves for cut protection. Here are a few simple tips for choosing the right glove for the job.
Understand ANSI cut levels or similar standards in your region/industry and apply those standards appropriately. If a job requires ANSI cut level 2 protection, don't use gloves that test at cut level 4.
Find a glove that matches the tasks required for the job. It should be comfortable and enhance performance, not detract from it. A glove that fails to do this will be discarded.
Cut protection is non-negotiable, but it isn't all that matters. Consider grip, dexterity, durability and abrasion resistance when making your choice.
Be educated. New advancements in in-house yarns and fabrics are delivering different glove options at a lower price that may not have been available in past years. Ask about the materials in gloves to ensure you're getting the best bang for your buck.
Consider TCO. Cutting costs up front can lead to significant expense later when workers suffer expensive injuries.
Jason Kokoszka is the market development manager at Ansell Healthcare.