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Protection for the job at hand

by Andy Clutton

A Halton Construction builder working with the Showa 306 gloveSteve Shale of Globus discusses the Utopian vision of a glove for all seasons.

From as far back as pre-historic times, man has recognised the need to protect his hands. Whilst no one knows the real origin of the glove, we do know that cavemen protected themselves from harsh elements using animal skin mittens and the ancient Greeks also valued the role of hand protection when engaging in sport, agriculture and warfare. Gloves, in all forms, are now used across every major industry, sport and hobby. In fact, glove wearing is one of the most effective industrial injury prevention programmes; statistically, wearing gloves reduces the risk of injury by 60 per cent. Yet despite the leaps forward they have made in terms of innovation now utilising space age fabrics and enabling workers to undertake the most delicate of tasks a single issue still remains – how do you ensure workers keep their gloves on?

In modern times hand protection has become a valued tool in the protection of workforces and products. Statistics show that the risk of injury is substantially reduced when suitable hand protection is utilised. But getting that ‘suitability’ right is fundamental. Many injuries occur not because the worker didn’t have a glove but because they didn’t have a glove that enabled them to perform the task properly. Therefore the glove gets removed and the risk of injury is increased. For employers, gloves are often viewed as a necessary evil; an expensive commodity that adds nothing to the value of the work done but legislation dictates they must be supplied so often price dictates the choice. Whereas in fact the right hand protection solution can add significant productivity gain as well as the obvious safety benefits.  If you consider that your hands are the only part of your body you intentionally put into contact with a hazard, it’s clear that the fit, comfort and performance of gloves can be critical to safety and productivity.

So why do workers remove their gloves even though they are aware of the risks this poses? Discomfort and / or inability to perform the task at hand are often the main concerns. Specific issues cited include the fact that gloves don’t fit properly, either being too large or too small. Properly fitted gloves follow the hand’s natural contours eliminating stress against the thumb. Those that are too big can reduce dexterity causing workers to struggle to perform certain tasks. And gloves that are too small can restrict blood flow and movement which can motivate fatigue.

Few companies would supply only two sizes of safety footwear or clothing to a workforce and expect it to fit comfortably, yet this is regularly seen when it comes to the emotive issue of hand protection. Gloves that fit correctly prevent the build-up of heat and moisture, afford good levels of grip and tactile control and can improve a worker’s productivity and gain widespread acceptance. For workers wearing gloves for long periods if they are uncomfortable or have sweaty hands they will remove their gloves.  Poorer quality gloves will also have an unpleasant odour once they have been worn for a while and sweat reacts with chemicals used in the manufacture of the glove. Sweat-related hand dermatitis can also develop when using gloves which cause the hands to sweat. So it can be understood how, if a worker is uncomfortable or has sweaty hands they are going to remove their gloves.

Risks can also be increased by workers having to swap gloves to accommodate different conditions. During dry and hot temperatures, wearing gloves can cause hands to sweat. Whereas in cold and wet weather users wear fully coated gloves to keep their hands clean, dry and warm. Even on a warm day if a worker is regularly plunging their hands in water they will generally need to swap to a different set of gloves.

Developing a glove which can accommodate different conditions and overcome the ‘sweat’ factor is challenge enough. Add in the fact that the gloves also need to enable workers to complete the task at hand (excuse the pun!) and protect them from the relevant risks and you have a task that has kept many an R&D department across the PPE industry awake at night. Essentially this creates the Utopian vision of a perfect glove. Coupled with the growing trend that has seen workers want more stylish and attractive gloves (taking their lead from the sports industry) the challenge to find the glove for all seasons (and all tasks!) has been one many manufacturers have been keen to overcome.

So are we light years away from achieving this? Not at all; leading manufacturers are now able to provide gloves that have no seams, are very lightweight but extremely durable, and breathable to promote stable hand temperature in all weather conditions. In fact breathability has been a key focus for many manufacturers and this attribute is one that any business should consider when looking for a glove supplier. It should be a basic requirement…not a premium element. In the long run correctly selected gloves which match the risk and the worker requirements will prove a very cost effective solution. They will last longer meaning fewer pairs are consumed and, therefore, there is a reduction in the overall spend. This also further impacts productivity as fewer glove changes mean more work gets done!

So the next time you think about your hand protection policy…don’t just look at the unit price. Why? Because any old glove won’t do and a glove isn’t just a glove. The right selection can help you achieve competitive advantage and when you think of it like that…

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