Delphi Gets a Handle on Hand Protection

March 13, 2003
Joint management/union responsibility for safety has improved hand protection at Delphi Corp.

At Delphi Corp., the use of personal protective equipment is serious business. Since the company makes every effort to engineer out safety hazards, PPE in general and hand protection in particular are seen as the last barrier against hazards.

"We don't believe in long-term use of PPE," says Delphi's director of health and safety, Karl Bossung. "That's putting a bandage on the problem. The hazard still exists and people can still get hurt." In the case of hand protection, he says, employees might forget to put their gloves back on when coming back from a break or in the summer when it's hot, they might take them off. "It's best to eliminate the hazard," he counsels.

That said, some jobs at Delphi, which specializes in mobile electronics and transportation components and systems technology, still require the use of hand protection. Employees wear a wide range of hand protection while working with metal parts and solvents and in clean rooms. "Anytime you require employees to wear any type of PPE, you must teach them to wear it in the proper manner and train them to use it," says Bossung.

Using the hierarchy of controls, Delphi tries to eliminate the hazard or process creating the hazard through administrative changes. If that is not feasible, engineering controls such as guards or equipment changes are investigated. Only after those solutions fail is PPE used. Finally, the company uses training and signs to communicate with employees and help them recognize hazards.

To have an effective hand protection program, Bossung suggests these steps:

  • Eliminate the hazard completely or use engineering controls to reduce the risk of injury.
  • Choose appropriate hand protection to fit the job task.
  • Train employees to recognize hazards and use hand protection.
  • Make it easy for employees to replace hand protection when it becomes worn or damaged.
  • Monitor and police the program.

Eliminating Hazards

Celebrating its 30th year, the Delphi joint management/labor safety program helped earn the company the distinction of being chosen one of America's Safest Companies in 2002 by Occupational Hazards.

Each Delphi facility there are 179 sites in 49 countries employing approximately 200,000 employees has a joint health and safety committee. In the United States, the committees have at least one representative from the United Auto Workers local and one management representative who also has safety and health responsibilities. The safety committee deals with many of the day-to-day safety challenges and questions.

Each facility also has a plant safety review board. At the U.S. facilities, the plant safety review board consists of the plant manager and his or her staff and the chair of the UAW local and his or her staff. The board sets objectives and goals for safety, reviews incident and injury and illness statistics, allocates funds for the safety program, determines training priorities, discusses progress of safety initiatives, and communicates safety information to employees.

If the board determines one area of the facility has a higher rate of lacerations, for example, it will form an ad hoc committee comprised of management and union representatives to do a "deep dive" into why that's happening, said Bossung. It will investigate the types of injuries, types of equipment and hand protection used, job tasks, the work process,and other pertinent issues.

"No investigation is ever closed out until the hazard has been eliminated through an engineering fix or equipment change," says Bossung. "If PPE must still be used, then the investigation is not formally closed."

When a new machine or process is introduced at a facility, the plant safety review board and the joint safety committee conduct a hazard risk assessment. The machinery, the parts and the process are all scrutinized and every potential hazard is discussed. Union operators, skilled tradespeople, maintenance workers - anyone who might come into contact with that machine - are called in to a meeting and they brainstorm how to safeguard workers from the hazards.

"If it's lacerations from sharp edges on machine parts or box cutters being used to open shrink-wrapped pallets or chemical hazards, we try to eliminate or guard those hazards. Not all hazards can be eliminated. We know not everyone wears their hand protection all the time, so the goal is to get to a level one (eliminate the hazard) or level two (engineering controls) solution," Bossung notes.

But sometimes the fix is not a short-term project, and in the interim, hand protection must be utilized. At Delphi, like with other aspects of the safety program, choosing hand protection is done by committee.

Choices, Choices

"We have to give employees the right tool to do the job," says Bossung, and that means hand protection that will not only protect from injuries, but also allow employees to do their jobs quickly and efficiently.

Bossung likes to say that at Delphi, "Employees are hired from the shoulders up." That means they are empowered to make decisions related to their work tasks and safety, including PPE purchasing decisions.

Once the plant safety review board determines hand protection is needed for a job and decides what type of hand protection (chemical-resistant, cut protection, cotton, leather, Kevlar, etc.) should be used, the local joint health and safety committee members research all the vendors who manufacture that type of hand protection. If many vendors are available, at least three are invited to the facility to showcase their products, and employees are encouraged to try on and wear the gloves and sleeves to determine if they find them effective and comfortable.

Once new gloves are chosen, training, the next step in the PPE process, is offered to the employees who will wear them.

Hands-on Training

Education about hand protection is conducted in several ways at Delphi. It can range from two or more hours of hands-on instruction about the machine or process and a review of job tasks and the use of gloves and protective sleeves, to a simple safety talk, to a video or a brochure. Education can even be an informal discussion between an employee and a shop steward or supervisor about the safety features of a box cutter, for example. The supervisor shows the employee the self-retracting blade, cautions against removing guards and discusses the proper use of the tool and the type of hand protection that should be worn while using the tool.

"Educating employees is part of providing the right tool for the job," Bossung insists. "If some of our operators are given new gloves and sleeves made of Kevlar, then we explain why they need Kevlar, why it's important to wear the PPE, and why that PPE was chosen."

When Delphi management makes the decision that PPE is necessary, then the company buys it. If the PPE is disposable, then the company makes disposal containers available on site. If it is recyclable and can be laundered, then the company maintains it and issues employees additional PPE. For example, employees who are required to wear uniforms are given seven sets of uniforms so they always have a clean one available while the dirty ones are being laundered. The same is true of hand protection.

Replacing Hand Protection

When employees forget their gloves, gloves have become worn or torn, or a new process is introduced that requires a new type of glove, supervisors write requisition forms for employees. Employees take the forms to the stockroom for the facility or department, turn them in and receive new gloves.

At some facilities, the stockroom is not monitored, so employees pick out their own gloves. The company has not had a problem with employees taking too many pairs of gloves or choosing the wrong ones and subsequently suffering injuries, says Bossung.

"We have profit sharing and it is in the employees' best interests to keep costs from waste or workers' compensation claims down," he notes.

Employees know what gloves they need, because jobs at Delphi have safe operating practice that includes the PPE required to do the job. The safe operating practice for each job is very specific, says Bossung. "It wouldn't say 'gloves,'' he notes. "It would say 'neoprene' for chemical hazards or 'Kevlar gloves and/or sleeves' for cut or laceration hazards."

Employees audit each other, and substitutions of inadequate PPE or failure to wear PPE are quickly pointed out and corrected. "Every employee has the right to go up to another employee and counsel them about health and safety or PPE," Bossung says. "We tell employees they are their brothers' and sisters' keepers."

Despite all the attention paid to engineering and administrative controls, choice of appropriate PPE, training and monitoring, injuries occur. Bossung says lacerations are the second most frequent injury at Delphi sites, after strains and sprains.

However, efforts to reduce all injuries and illnesses are having an impact. Recordable injuries at Delphi locations around the world are down way down.

In 1993, Delphi employees worldwide experienced 33,194 recordable injuries and illnesses. By 2002, that number dropped to 3,250. Lost workdays at Delphi numbered 5,377 in 1993. In 2002, the number of lost workdays was 567.

"We're 90 percent better, but 567 lost workdays is still too many," Bossung admits. "If you're one of those workers who lost a day of work because of injuries, being 90 percent better doesn't matter. I look at it like we failed 567 times last year."

At Delphi, management and employees alike believe zero lost workdays is an attainable goal. And they believe that through administrative and engineering controls, PPE, training and communication, that goal can be reached.

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