by Donald F. Groce, May 31, 2011
With the introduction of new age glove fibers to replace yesteryear’s leather and cotton work gloves, hand protection and personal protection equipment (PPE) is on an uptrend in winning the war against hand injuries. Gloves can’t do it all, but the proper glove can do a great deal to ensure that workers end the day with their hands and fingers intact. For the U.S. population in general, the hand is the leading body part injured at work and treated in hospital emergency departments, with hand injuries sending an estimated 1,080,000 workers to the emergency room annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When cuts and lacerations of the fingers and hands are combined, the number of days-away from work cases (approximately 110,000 annually), are second only to back strain and sprain frequency, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor.
The construction work environment is rife with threats to hands. Activities ranging from operating machinery and hand tools to handling rough or sharp-edged materials such as glass, bricks and roofing materials each pose a potential danger that gloves can help safeguard against. Gloves work hard to protect against punctures, extreme temperatures, lack of worker visibility, cuts, chemical exposure, insect bites, crushing, burns, frostbite, abrasion and biohazards. A word of caution: gloves do provide key protection, but that protection is marginal in the case of pinch point and crushing accidents, and no glove will completely protect hands from a moving serrated blade.
One of the least publicized threats to construction workers’ hands lies not in a tool or sharp object, but in a common building material — Portland cement. This much-handled building material contains hexavalent chromium (Cr(VI)) compounds, a group of chemical substances that contain the metallic element chromium in its positive-6 valence (hexavalent) state. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) considers all Cr(VI) compounds to be potential occupational carcinogens.
Traditional leather gloves can actually absorb this compound and provide little worker protection against it, while new age, coated gloves offer barrier protection. This is important to know, because an increased risk of lung cancer has been observed in workers exposed to Cr(VI) compounds. Other adverse health effects include dermal irritation, skin ulceration, allergic contact dermatitis, occupational asthma, nasal irritation and ulceration, perforated nasal septa, rhinitis, nosebleed, respiratory irritation, nasal cancer, sinus cancer, eye irritation and damage, perforated eardrums, kidney damage, liver damage, pulmonary congestion and edema, epigastria pain, and erosion and discoloration of the teeth.
The challenge: Keeping the gloves on
Two key factors come into play to ensure workers wear the gloves they have been given:
1. The glove must be the right fit for the worker
2. The glove must be right for the task
If either of these points is missed, workers will likely take off their gloves to perform their jobs comfortably and efficiently — but at great risk.
Fit. Fit. Fit.
Say it again and again: fit is key. Not only will an ill-fitting glove not be worn, it can be a hazard. No matter what the glove type, it must fit and provide the dexterity necessary for the job. To determine proper fit, measure the circumference of the hand around the palm or at the base of the metacarpals. The number of inches will help determine the correct size:
< 7 inches = Extra Small
7.5 inches = Small
8 inches = Medium
9 inches = Large
10 inches = Extra Large
> 10.5 inches = Extra Extra Large
In general, thin-gauge gloves made from elastomeric polymers such as natural rubber latex (NRL), nitride or neoprene or even plastic PVC offer the greatest dexterity and tactile sensitivity. Traditionally, as gloves get thicker, dexterity has been traded off in order to gain durability or protection. That is changing today as hand protection laboratories move forward with high levels of both flexibility and protection in construction gloves.
The right glove for the task
Glove manufacturers continually refine task-specific gloves. Today’s gloves are designed to protect workers from everything from the threat of lacerations from the rough and sharp edges of building materials; to the potential poisonous effects of hexavalent chromium in Portland cement; to chemical skin burning.
The latest development is new coil fiber technology that provides excellent cut resistance with unmatched dexterity. The technology behind these newest fibers in the hand protection arena combines a stainless steel core with DuPont Kevlar®’s proven cut-resistance for ultimate hand protection from cuts and lacerations. Everyone — from road construction workers, who will likely wear the hivis glove models with this new fiber, to masons, roofers, carpenters, glass cutters and virtually every other construction trade — stands to benefit from this next step in hand protection evolution.
ANSI/ISEA 105-2005, American National Standard / International Safety Equipment Association’s Hand Protection Selection Criteria can be a great help in glove selection. This standard provides a consistent, numeric-scale method with which manufacturers rate their products against certain contaminants and exposures including puncture and abrasion resistance, chemical permeation and degradation, detection of holes, and heat and flame resistance. ANSI standard information is available for virtually all high-quality work gloves.
Every discussion of personal protection equipment ultimately comes down to the question of safety, but at what cost? Interestingly, most people who focus on per glove cost would be surprised to know that the cost of one incident that could have been prevented by workers wearing the right glove often far exceeds the cost of an entire hand protection program. The National Safety Council offers the following as a guide:
- Direct Cost of a Laceration: $10,000
- Stitches: $2,000 Plus Indirect
- Butterfly: $300
- Severed Tendon >$70,000
It behooves employers to take advantage of all the newest glove developments from PPE manufacturers’ research labs, as well the many posters and safety campaign materials available to help remind workers to keep the gloves on.
Start with the right glove for the task, make sure it fits, and then remind workers that it is their hands and lives that are being protected.
Donald F. Groce
Donald, of Showa Best Glove, is a technical product specialist and a research chemist. Before joining Showa Best Glove, he worked for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on chemical toxicology studies that included the Agent Orange Study. He is a noted speaker and expert on a variety of occupational and workplace hazards, including latex allergies and chemical exposure-related illnesses.