The human hand contains 27 intricate bones, and are the main structures for physically manipulating the environment, used for both gross motor skills (grasping a large ball-peen hammer) and fine motor skills (picking up a loose roofing nail or scalpel). In addition, the fingertips contain some of the densest areas of nerve endings on the body, are the richest source of tactile feedback and have the greatest positioning capability of the body. The sense of touch intimately is associated with the human hand.
With this in mind, you would assume these finely tuned tools of life would be well cared for. After all, there's no doubt that ignoring this plea could be disastrous, life-altering and expensive.
However, it's apparent that employers and workers in various global industries often are ignoring the dangers associated with a lack of hand protection – at a very high cost. The prevention of injuries to the hands and fingers often is a matter of simply using protection in the first place, choosing the proper products for the specific application and maintaining a careful balance between company personal protective equipment (PPE) purchase cost cost versus injury expense.
Obstacles to Prevention
Avoiding the impairment and suffering of injury to workers is the primary concern when addressing the issue of hand protection. With the amount of readily available information about hand injuries, one fact remains unchanged: wearing gloves is the most effective way of reducing and preventing most hand injuries, and educating the wearer about the proper glove for the application is paramount to the success of any PPE plan.
The reasons for not wearing gloves range from not having the proper glove for the job to not having a properly sized glove to worker fear of not being able to perform the task as efficiently wearing gloves. Researchers and manufacturers are working to dispel these obstacles to workers wearing gloves, and most of these challenges already have been overcome by the diverse variety of glove sizes and models currently available to workers.
It's in the Numbers
Let's review some simple statistics. The hand is the leading body part injured at work and treated in hospital emergency departments, with hand injuries sending nearly 1.1 million workers to the emergency room annually in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are approximately 250,000 serious injuries to fingers, hands and wrists each year.
There are many causes of hand injuries, but the No. 1 recurring factor is performing tasks without the protection of gloves. The simple truth remains: Wearing hand protection is the best way to prevent injury to the hands. The trick is convincing the end-user to wear gloves on a day-in/day-out basis.
On the regulatory side, OSHA certainly has guidelines, rules and regulations that prescribe the appropriate hand protection for employees whose "hands are exposed to hazards such as those from skin absorption of harmful substances; severe cuts or lacerations; severe abrasions; punctures; chemical burns; thermal burns; and harmful temperature extremes." Having employees wear gloves is one of the most effective hand protection safety options available to an employer. In fact, wearing gloves reduces the relative risk of hand injury by an impressive 60 percent.
Moreover, according to OSHA's hand protection regulations, "PPE devices alone should not be relied on to provide protection against hazards, but should be used in conjunction with guards, engineering controls and sound manufacturing practices." With this, the premise largely is the same: With the right combination of hand protection and safety precautions, hand injuries mostly are preventable.
One Size Doesn't Fit All
In many instances, just choosing the proper glove for the application can resolve injury and lessen potential risk.
Today's gloves are custom-engineered with materials that can protect workers from virtually every danger found in their working environment. From the threat of lacerations to the rough and sharp edges of building materials such as glass, brick and roofing; to the potential poisonous effects of hexavalent chromium in Portland cement; to the spread of bodily fluids and disease; to chemical skin burning, glove manufacturers have it covered. There is no reason a user should be without the type of hand protection required by a specific application, and as a mandate, companies should be implementing these PPE standards as a means to a positive end.
According to OSHA, "The variety of potential occupational hand injuries makes selecting the right pair of gloves challenging. It is essential that employees use gloves specifically designed for the hazards and tasks found in their workplace because gloves designed for one function may not protect against a different function even though they may appear to be an appropriate protective device."
With a hybridization of comfort and protection, today's workers have the unique ability to choose the ideal product for the application – and with research and development in this area providing new frontiers in terms of hand protection – this is a great place to be. Ranging from cut-resistant Kevlar coil fiber technology to biodegradable, disposable nitrile to highly chemical-resistant polymer-driven or high tech gloves specifically designed for clean room applications, there is a perfect glove for all situations. It's just a matter of matching those situations with the right product and finding the information to do so.
Many glove manufacturers have large resources devoted to research and development and offer guidance on their Web sites to help purchasers determine which gloves or combination of gloves are best for specific uses.
The High Cost of Injuries
With cost playing such an important role in almost all hand protection purchasing decisions, it is no doubt a topic that weighs heavy on determining the best PPE path a company takes. However, more and more studies show that the cost of not providing the right hand protection exceeds the cost of hand protection. In looking at just one sector of the construction industry, figures compiled from BLS, the National Safety Council (NSC), the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) and the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) show that road constructors pay $48 million more for hand injuries each year than the $8.3 million it would cost them to equip all 574,000 of their hazard-exposed workers with protective gloves. This is not to say that by wearing protective abrasion and laceration-resistant gloves users would be protected from every potential hand injury. However, data suggests that road construction companies are spending quite a bit more to cover costs of hand injuries annually than it would cost to equip their workers properly.
Ask anyone who struggles to recover from a hand injury and you will realize the truth in the statement, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
Gil LeVerne is marketing manager for Showa Best Glove has been in the hand protection industry for more than 17 years. Showa Best Glove is recognized internationally for innovative technology such as ATLAS, a flat-dipped, latex-palm-coated gloves, and N-DEX, the industry's first non-latex, non-vinyl disposable glove. Show Best recently introduced GREEN-DEX, a biodegradable disposable nitrile glove – another first in the industry.