Protecting the hands of construction workers is not an easy task. They need gloves that fit like a second skin while also offering protection from the sharp edges of building materials.
For glove industry researchers, the ongoing challenge remains: How can we better provide “second skin” comfort while ensuring task-specific hand protection? This question is central to the development of new glove models for multi-tasking members of the construction industry.
Today’s gloves are designed to protect workers from a variety of threats: lacerations from the rough and sharp edges of building materials such as glass, brick and roofing; the potential poisonous effects of hexavalent chromium in Portland cement; chemical burns; and the threat of injury from the many materials and tools handled in the course of a day’s work.
The hand is the leading body part injured at work and treated in hospital emergency departments, with hand injuries sending more than 1 million workers to the emergency room annually in the United States, 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 strains and sprains, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Avoiding the impairment and suffering of injury to workers is the primary concern when addressing the issue of hand protection. At the same time, the cost of hand injuries in dollars, according to statistics from the National Safety Council, is eye opening:
➤ Direct cost of a laceration: $10,000
➤ Stitches: $2,000 plus indirect costs, such as time away from work
➤ Butterfly: $300
➤ Severed tendon >$70,000
The causes of hand injuries on construction sites are many. However, the No. 1 factor is performing tasks without the protection of gloves. Other factors, such as performing an unfamiliar task, lack of training, distractions and fatigue come into play as well.
With all the information about hand injuries, one fact remains: Wearing gloves is the most effective way of reducing most hand injuries. This simple solution has been proven to reduce the relative risk of injury by 60 percent.
Reasons for not wearing gloves range from not having the appropriate glove for the job or not having a properly sized glove to workers’ fear of not being able to perform the task with gloves on. These obstacles to workers wearing gloves are being addressed by glove research teams globally. Most of these obstacles already have been overcome by the diverse variety of glove sizes and models available today.
Today’s Hand Protection Frontier
There’s always room for improvement in hand protection, but recently, new fiber technology has been developed that provides cut resistance with dexterity.
This new fiber joins dozens of other high-performance fibers in a glove environment that increasingly is becoming task-specific. The combination of new fibers with an almost unlimited variety of synthetic coating configurations provides an environment in which hand protection for the construction industry is evolving more rapidly than ever before.
As a result, researchers are able to meet the comfort and flexibility needs of workers with gloves that have the required cut resistance combined with:
➤ Lighter coatings (many of them oil absorptive)
➤ Touch sensitivity
➤ Greater dexterity
With these new glove models, workers no longer have any reason to remove protective gloves when performing the task for which the gloves were designed. These gloves step up to the task for everything from jobs where dexterity is a must to situations where visibility is key or cut protection is essential.
As glove developers, we are inspired by the need to provide gloves that protect while enabling the work to be done. Nothing is more disheartening than visiting a job site and seeing workers who have removed their gloves – or in some cases, altered them – due to dexterity problems. In almost all cases, the worker had the wrong glove for the task or was wearing a glove that did not fit properly.
THE PROVING GROUND
Before a glove model is introduced for use in the construction industry, it has to measure up to stringent testing to determine how well it will hold up to abrasion and, in the case of cut-resistant gloves, the level of cut resistance. The results of this testing can be a help in selecting the right glove for the job.
For example, when selecting cut-resistant gloves, it is important to know that the higher the ANSI (American National Standards Institute) number, the greater the cut resistance. Depending upon the level of cut threat, a worker can have a glove that provides both the cut resistance needed to protect him or her and the flexibility required to complete work tasks.
Whenever gloves are being selected, three key factors come into play:
➤ Performance properties – The ability of the glove to provide protection against specific hazards.
➤ Durability – The glove’s retention of performance properties with use.
➤ Human factors – The glove’s fit, function and comfort.
THE FOURTH FACTOR
When talking about gloves, we always add “cost” as the fourth factor. It is, without a doubt, present in 99 percent of hand protection purchasing decisions.
Interestingly, more and more studies show that the cost of not providing the right hand protection exceeds the cost of hand protection.
A case in point comes from a compilation of figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Safety Council, American Road and Transportation Builders Association and the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA). The combined statistics demonstrate that road constructors pay $48 million more for hand injuries each year than it would cost them to equip all of their hazard-exposed workers with protective gloves.
“Wearing abrasion and laceration-resistant gloves will not protect against every potential hand injury, and we are not saying that it would, but this data does suggest that road construction companies are spending a whole lot more to cover the costs of hand injuries each year than they would pay to equip their workers properly and make sure they are wearing their gloves when they need them,” said ISEA President Dan Shipp.
It is important for everyone in the construction industry to know that great hand protection with flexibility is available. Find the right glove and wear it! Your hands will thank you.
Donald F. Groce is a technical product specialist and a research chemist for Showa Best Glove. 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. Groce is a noted speaker and expert on a variety of occupational and workplace hazards, including latex allergies and chemical exposure-related illnesses. He is a part of the local Citizen’s Meth Task Force and serves on the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1999 Technical Committee and the American Industrial Hygiene Protective Clothing Committee.