The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that among the 3.6 million work-related injuries treated in emergency rooms across the U.S. each year, the majority involves the hands and fingers. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), about 70 percent of workers who suffer from hand injuries in manufacturing operations are not wearing gloves.
The reasons why workers do not wear personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves range from discomfort and a lack of awareness of potential hazards to little understanding of how and why hand and arm protection products should be used. In some instances, managers consider safety programs a low priority.
Manufacturers, however, are starting to change the way they view safety as they realize the potential advantages resulting from an effective safety program — including reduced insurance premiums and increased worker productivity. OSHA data suggests that investing in a safety program "makes good business sense," with manufacturers being able to save $4 to $6 for every $1 invested through reduced injuries, decreased insurance premiums and less downtime.
Many manufacturers have worked successfully with outside vendors and consultants that offer comprehensive programs to help them identify "pain points," such as why workers are not wearing gloves and other safety apparel. Certain outside suppliers and consultants often have the resources to conduct a thorough assessment of the manufacturer's processes and provide specific recommendations that, if implemented, will help ensure worker compliance and encourage greater productivity.
Recommendations may include best practices such as selecting the right gloves and sleeves and implementing effective training programs, controls and safety incentives as a means of reaching the manufacturer's safety and cost objectives. A safety program, however, will only be as successful as management's commitment to the program. Managers must be willing to invest in a comprehensive and continuous program, and they must encourage employee involvement early in the process. Workers are more likely to accept and wear personal protective equipment (PPE) products when they help select the products and provide input regarding training and control initiatives.
Selecting the Right Gloves and Sleeves
Wearing the right glove(s) every day will not only help protect worker hands but may save their lives. While some manufacturers may believe they are saving money by choosing less expensive PPE products, the gloves and sleeves may actually cost them more in the long run because they do not offer the same level of protection as a higher-quality product.
Selecting the proper gloves and sleeves will require careful evaluation of the hazards and dangers associated with each task performed within a manufacturing facility. Management must study individual employee tasks to determine the duration of the task, the degree of dexterity required, how frequently each task is performed and the worker's exposure to various hazards.
Employees working with chemicals, for example, will need gloves or sleeves made of neoprene, nitrile, PVC or other materials that provide the necessary level of protection needed, while those working with knife blades or other sharp instruments will require gloves made with steel mesh or high-performance fibers such as Intercept Technology, which incorporates the new KEVLAR Stretch Armor Technology. Workers handling objects with a slippery surface will want gloves with a textured surface, and employees working with small objects or performing very detailed tasks will require gloves that enhance their dexterity.
Although companies may provide workers with gloves and sleeves that are appropriate for the tasks, workers are unlikely to wear protective products if they are uncomfortable. Glove fit is closely linked to comfort. When hand protection products are too tight, for example, they can increase perspiration, which leads to hand fatigue and related injuries.
Conversely, gloves that are too loose or bulky will impair a worker's dexterity and productivity and may create a hazardous situation. Loose-fitting gloves are also more likely to slip off a worker's hands.
Ordering the right size gloves is the best way to ensure that hand protection products fit well and are comfortable for workers to wear. A flexible, cloth measuring tape may be used to measure around the hand, above the thumb and below the fingers. The diameter of the hand rounded to the nearest half-inch is numerically equal to the worker's average glove size.
While this method of measurement will help determine size, it does not account for all possible variations in the hands. Some workers, for example, have long, slim fingers while others have short, stubby fingers. Gloves that are one-half or even a full size larger or smaller than the measured hand size may fit workers more comfortably.
It is also important to determine the cuff needed and whether workers will require a sleeve. Gloves are available with rolled, pinked/serrated, straight, knitwrist, slip-on, safety and gauntlet cuffs. Sleeves are offered in a variety of lengths and are made of various materials to protect workers from a range of hazards.
Workers are more likely to wear their gloves — and keep them on — when they understand the products' purposes and why specific hand protection products were selected. To be effective, a safety training program should involve all affected employees, not just line workers who will wear the gloves and sleeves, but department chairpersons and executive personnel who should understand the safety program and its potential for reducing the costs associated with workplace injuries.
Ansell Healthcare recently worked with a large airline manufacturer to address a situation in which workers were required to apply a chemical mixture by hand. A number of workers had reported skin irritations and sensitivity to the mixture — even though some were wearing gloves.
After assessing the problem and talking with workers, Ansell recommended that employees double-glove, with workers changing the outside glove after a specified period of time. All employees were required to participate in training so they would understand the glove changing/disposal process and the risks associated with not changing the gloves as recommended.
Since workers completed the training and began double-gloving, the airline has been able to use a less expensive glove while providing workers with a higher level of protection. Both of these advantages have positively impacted the airline carrier's bottom line.
The following points should be addressed during PPE training:
Why and when hand and arm protection is needed. Workers must recognize that they will need to wear hand and/or arm protection any time they are exposed to specific workplace hazards such as chemicals, extreme heat or cold and equipment with sharp or jagged edges. They must understand the type(s) of gloves that will provide the greatest level of protection for specific applications. If workers are provided gloves and sleeves made of KEVLAR, for example, they should know why it is important for them to wear these particular gloves or sleeves and why this specific product was chosen.
Workers must also recognize that a single style of glove will not necessarily work for all applications and that wearing gloves or sleeves does not automatically eliminate the hazard. Some workers assume that once they have the gloves on their hands, they are totally protected from any harm, which, of course, is not true.
How to use hand and arm protection products. To achieve the highest level of protection, workers must use the hand and arm protection products provided and use them properly. Improper use could increase the risk of injury and create a false sense of security.
Glove and sleeve care, repair and storage. Workers must learn to identify when gloves and sleeves need to be replaced. Gloves and sleeves that are torn, split or otherwise damaged should not be worn. Most manufacturers provide guidelines for cleaning, inspecting and storing these products.
To maximize their useful life, gloves and sleeves should be stored in a cool, dark environment where they are shielded from ozone and ultraviolet light. They should also be stored away from steam pipes, radiators and other heat sources that could impair their effectiveness and shorten their useable life.
The training tools and methods used to educate employees will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer and may range from brochures and signage to training videos, group meetings and interactive CD-ROMs. Bulletin boards, newsletters and posters are also effective vehicles for reminding and updating employees about safety procedures and equipment.
To maximize efficiency, manufacturers should consider offering safety information across multiple plant sites. Additionally, some companies have successfully created Web-based training programs that are available to workers at a number of locations. Whatever methods the manufacturer chooses to use, training should be continuous and administered to all new employees and anyone involved with product or process changes. Manufacturers should also look for opportunities to share best practices among facilities.
Initiating proper controls can help manufacturers reduce the costs associated with glove and sleeve spoilage, waste, theft, misapplication and non-compliance. To implement effective controls, however, management must be able to institute and monitor glove and sleeve wear practices.
In some instances, manufacturers may be reluctant to implement controls because they do not have the resources needed to initiate certain processes or they believe program administration will be difficult because of job rotation and/or job sharing. Fortunately, glove and/or sleeve controls can be very flexible and easy to initiate. Safety product controls may range from a pair-for-pair glove exchange based on pre-arranged usage levels to a Web-based vending and fulfillment system. Some companies provide a purchase allowance to various departments that use gloves and other protective apparel.
Other proven methods of control include monthly department usage audits, requisition forms, central store control and authorization forms requiring sign-off by the department foreman. At one manufacturing facility, an employee safety team successfully implemented a product distribution system using secured bags to distribute gloves based on historical usage.
A major appliance manufacturer implemented a control system after managers noticed that employee glove usage had increased dramatically during a two-year period, jumping from 35,000 pairs in 2002 to 95,400 pairs in 2004 — while worker numbers remained about the same. Annual glove spend increased from $87,500 in 2002 to $238,500 in 2004.
Ansell conducted an assessment and discovered that every time a new shipment of gloves arrived, workers were quick to refresh their own supply — regardless of whether replenishment was necessary. In addition, many of the new gloves were being taken off the premises. Ansell helped the manufacturer develop a control system that provides supervisors with cards that allow them access to gloves in a locked crib. Supervisors are the only personnel who have this type of card.
Since the system was implemented, the manufacturer reported glove usage has decreased significantly. In addition, the glove distributor has started making daily deliveries from its warehouse, which has helped slow usage.
Safety Program Incentives
While a training program can educate workers, create awareness and communicate best practices, a recognition and/or incentive program may be necessary to keep safety top-of-mind and help create a safety culture. A company may conduct a highly successful training program that motivates workers to comply. Yet, if one employee removes his or her gloves while performing a specific task and does so without accident or injury, that worker — and others in the department — may feel confident working without gloves.
Safety incentives should be part of a comprehensive safety program and should complement elements such as ongoing training, PPE controls, accident investigations, safety meetings and internal safety audits. An effective safety incentive program should strive to create a balance between reducing worker injuries and encouraging employees to participate in safety activities, such as training sessions and departmental meetings.
The most effective safety incentive programs reward and/or recognize workers every 30 to 60 days. Awards and incentives should be symbolic and memorable, which is why many companies have received positive responses from workers when they imprinted the company logo or safety slogans on clothing, plaques and outdoor and sports equipment. Some manufacturers keep safety awareness at a high level by regularly distributing simple trinkets bearing their safety slogans.
Again, a safety incentive program will be successful only if management is committed to the program — especially since management will ultimately be responsible for the program's budget. Although a safety incentive program may seem expensive, with incentives costing as much as $50 to $200 per worker, a successful program will pay for itself many times over. Statistics confirm that companies have the potential to save $2 to $10 for every dollar invested.
Manufacturers can achieve significant bottom line results when they are diligent in identifying and evaluating risks and providing workers with PPE products that are comfortable and provide the level of protection needed. Management must also be willing to devote the resources needed to educate workers and to reward them for their efforts and successes.
Studies confirm that most hand and arm injuries are preventable. The level of prevention achieved, however, will depend upon the manufacturer's commitment to safety and employees' willingness to become involved in creating a safer work environment for themselves and their peers.
About the author:
Greg Plemmons is a business development manager for Ansell Healthcare. Headquartered in Red Bank, N.J., Ansell is a leading provider of hand and clothing apparel, along with productivity solutions that enable companies to achieve and surpass their cost and productivity objectives. Working directly with plant personnel, Ansell uses its experience, knowledge and proven products to develop programs that guarantee results in the areas of safety and efficiency. For more information, visit www.ansellpro.com.