As per national and international regulations, “Where risks cannot be controlled at source, appropriate personal protective clothing and/or equipment should be provided free of charge.”
In general, all personal protective equipment must:
- Be appropriate for the risks involved, without itself leading to any increased risk
- Correspond to existing conditions in the workplace
- Fit the wearer correctly after any necessary adjustment
- Take account of ergonomic requirements and the worker’s state of health
As per the Workplace Injury Statistics UK 2021, in terms of general parts of the body, upper limbs are most commonly injured in workplace-related accidents in Great Britain, with 26,139 RIDDOR-reported injuries affecting the fingers, thumbs, hands, wrists or the rest of the arm (23% of workplace injuries in total). Specifically, there were 7,579 injuries to one or more fingers/thumb(s), 4,814 injuries to wrists, and 4,677 injuries to hands. Around 70% of upper limb injuries keep an employee off work for seven days or more. Because of this, appropriate hand protection is essential for all workers.
The best-practice process to adopt when considering the selection of hand protection is to:
- Identify the hazard and assess the level of risk
- Determine the properties of the hand protection required
- Compare the available product options
- Check product conformity to directives and standards
- Document the assessment process and rationale for selection
Gloves may still be used in situations where the end user can identify the hazards and level of protection required – where the effects of the hazard are gradual and can be identified in good time. Protective gloves guard against dangers that may seriously or irreversibly damage health, the effects of which the end user usually cannot identify in sufficient time. The general requirements for protective gloves are sizing, dexterity, pH, and if they are neutral against skin.
“general requirements for protective gloves are sizing, dexterity, pH, and if they are neutral against skin”
Workplace hand injuries
“Avulsion” is a medical term for an injury that involves the surface layers of your skin being peeled away from the rest of the affected body part, usually when a structure containing muscles and tendons is pulled in the opposite direction of the bone they surround. When avulsions happen, they usually end up exposing tissues, muscles, tendons, or even bone from beneath this layer of skin. Nerve damage is also common after an avulsion, making repairs to these injuries in the hands particularly tricky. Avulsions and detachments are often the result of machinery-related accidents, whether due to a mechanical error, a user error, or a breach in safety guidelines.
Another occupational hazard to your hands in certain workplaces is the potential for injury by crushing. If your hand becomes crushed under a heavy object or an object falling at high speeds, you’ll usually experience sudden and intense pain followed by severe swelling. If the crush has caused any breaks in your hand, you may even hear a cracking sound at the time of impact. If this happens to you, you may also experience symptoms after the time of your injury, such as weakness, loss of motion, cramping, tingling, or even numbness in your hand.
Workers who are at a particularly high risk for crushing injuries include anyone who regularly works with machinery or lifts heavy objects, such as construction workers, factory workers, and delivery workers.
Finger fractures happen for a variety of reasons, from misuse of power tools to accidents that result in your finger getting slammed in a door. Regardless of the cause, what is important to remember about finger fractures is the fact that, although the bones are small, no injury to them is inconsequential. Your whole hand relies on all the tiny bones in your fingers staying properly aligned to perform the hand’s vital functions as they should. If one of them is fractured and left untreated, you could face permanent deficits in your ability to use that finger, if not your entire hand.
“monitor workplace hazards, implement accident surveillance and put emergency measures in place”
Unlike the other types of hand injuries we’ve discussed here, sprains and strains in the hand can happen to just about any professional at work after enough repetitive motion with no breaks or exercises. If these injuries are left unaddressed long enough, they can even progress into something more severe that could require surgery to correct, such as carpal tunnel syndrome. The best way to avoid these injuries is to enact preventative measures, such as performing hand and wrist exercises, using proper posture while at work, and taking short breaks from repetitive motion at least every three hours.
Risk assessments for hands
When assessing risks for hand injuries, you must firstly identify the hazard (something with the potential to cause harm) and then identify the risk (the likelihood that harm will occur), as well as who is at risk, e.g. maintenance workers, contractors, cleaners and visitors.
When gathering information, check your own employee accident and ill health records, talk to your workers and consult your manufacturer’s instructions and data sheets. Concentrate on significant hazards, not trivial ones. Some examples of hazards might include chemicals, microbiological agents, electricity, compressed gases, slip/trip hazards and working with sharp objects.
Evaluate the risk. It may be necessary to implement controls, but you should record your findings and review the assessment. Some questions to ask yourself are:
- Can you control the risks by trying a less risky operation?
- Can you prevent the hazard?
- Will personal protective equipment (PPE) be a solution?
- Can the hazard be eliminated?
- Are existing precautions adequate?
- Would you evaluate the risk as high, medium or low?
To better understand if your control measures are adequate, you should routinely test them. You should also monitor workplace hazards, implement accident and health surveillance and put emergency measures in place to prepare for the worst scenario.
In order to improve your company’s experience with hand-related injuries, it is necessary to create a benchmark by which to measure improvement. You can begin by recording your findings with written and computer records (like a general risk assessment form). You could also create a more specific form at the departmental level. When reviewing your records and your previous assessment, you could then look at such things as specific influences of changes in equipment, substance changes, procedural changes, and if you are now in compliance with legislation and standards. The goal is to be better able to review your assessment on a regular basis to reduce near-miss occurrences, accidents and ill health.
Fit for purpose
Nitrile gloves are the most effective replacement for natural rubber, vinyl and neoprene. Nitrile offers excellent protection against acids, bases, oils, solvents and esters, grease, and animal fats. Nitrile gloves are more resistant to snags, punctures, abrasion and cuts than neoprene or PVC gloves. Nitrile also does not contain latex proteins, which may cause allergic reactions. Because nitrile gloves are so versatile, they are ideal for use in laboratories, automotive and aircraft parts handling and assembly, solvent plant cleaning, chemical processing, food processing, petroleum refining, dip tank operations, acid etching, painting, graphic arts, battery manufacturing, degreasing, electronics and handling pesticides.
PVC gloves provide excellent resistance to most fats, oils, acids, caustics and petroleum hydrocarbons. They are resistant to alcohols and glycol ethers, but not aromatics, aldehydes and ketones. In particular, PVC gloves are good for handling such chemicals as: citric acid (10%), cyclohexane, ethylene glycol, formaldehyde, formic acid, glycerine, hydrochloric acid (10%), linseed oil, perchloric acid, potassium hydroxide and tannic acid. Because PVC gloves have excellent abrasion resistance, they are ideal for use in the petrochemical industry, construction and general oily or greasy applications. Insulated high visibility orange PVC gloves are also available and are ideal for the fishing industry, cold storage, signalling to crane operators, winter road work and winter deliveries of heating fuel.
“nitrile offers excellent protection against acids, bases, oils, solvents and esters and grease”
Butyl gloves exhibit the highest permeation resistance to gas or water vapours of any glove compound available today. They are ideal for use in ketones (MEK, MIBK, Acetone), esters (Tricresyl Phosphate, Amy Acetate, Ethyl Acetate) and highly corrosive acids. Butyl gloves are used by the military for protection from chemical warfare agents, and are also ideal for laboratories, the chemical industry, recycling and waste disposal, cleaning and maintenance, and hazmat work.
Viton gloves are made specifically for handling chlorinated and aromatic solvents. They exhibit a high degree of impermeability to these solvents and can be used in or around water and water-based solutions. Viton also has superior resistance to PCBs. Viton gloves are ideal for use in the automotive industry, aircraft maintenance, chemical industry and degreasing operations.
Polyethylene/ethylene-vinyl alcohol gloves and accessories resist permeation and breakthrough against the widest range of toxic/hazardous chemicals.
They are ideal against aromatics, esters, ketones and chlorines. These gloves are an excellent choice for chemical and petrochemical laboratories, spill cleanups, hazmat control operations, photo finishing, medical laboratories and a host of other applications.
Gloves by hazard
Several levels of cut resistant gloves exist, made of materials that protect against cuts from sharp objects or tools. An example of this would be gloves that allow you to deal with barbed wire without cutting or puncturing your skin. Such gloves are designed to be highly cut and puncture resistant, ensuring that you have the best level of protection when dealing with barbed wire or other sharp objects.
Similarly, abrasion resistant gloves have been designed to provide protection only against abrasion injuries from rough surfaces.
There are also protective gloves and sleeves that have been produced with special fabrics that are designed to be able to stop a chainsaw running at thousands of feet per minute. These are incredibly versatile and are ideal for a number of applications, including within the forestry industry, for tree surgery and for local authorities.
Impact-resistant gloves encompasses hand protection that include padding on the knuckles and back of the palm that absorb the force from a direct impact to the hands and fingers, ensuring that you stay safe while at work.
When workers come into contact with adhesives or solvents that can cause damage to their skin and hands, the use of gloves can help to avoid injury. Chemical Resistant Gloves are rigorously developed and tested to ensure that they resist chemical hazards. When choosing chemical resistant gloves, it is important that you choose protection that is designed for the specific chemicals you will encounter.
An example of where a chemical resistant glove should be carefully considered is when employees are closely working with or directly handling battery acid (chemically known as sulphuric acid), which is most commonly found in batteries, chemical manufacturing plants and fertilisers. When working with condensed battery acid, it is vital that you minimise your exposure. This includes wearing gloves that prevent the acid lingering on your skin.
“when workers come into contact with adhesives or solvents that can cause damage to their skin and hands”
Electrical accidents are more common than they should be, and can cause major injury and fatality, so it is crucial to ensure you’re wearing the right PPE to protect yourself in the event of an emergency. Specially designed arc flash gloves feature resistances that give workers’ hands the best protection possible from such incidents.
It is also essential to prevent electrostatic discharge (ESD) if working with sensitive electronic equipment, as ESD can damage sensitive electronic components. Anti-static gloves help protect both wearer and the product by discharging electrostatic build-up continuously and safely.
Anti-vibration gloves are designed to protect your hands against the dangers of exposure to vibrations. Hand arm vibration syndrome is a chronic occupational illness and is caused by continuous or excessive use of power tools and machinery. Anti-vibration gloves help to soak up the harmful vibrations and protect your arms and hands from chronic illness.
In cold conditions, it is vital that your hands can get the help they need to stay warm and stay productive. Cold handling gloves are designed and tested to ensure that cold handling tasks can be carried out safely and securely.
On the other hand, heat proof gloves protect your hands from thermal hazards posed by heat. Heat resistant and heat proof gloves can provide protection from heat injury in a variety of situations. Heat resistant safety gloves can be used for bakery work, food manufacturing, oven applications, pressings, mouldings, kiln work, foundry work, glass manufacture, engineering and many other applications.
Debris gloves are specifically designed to provide protection against the hazards that can be encountered when searching through debris. Ideal for demolition and site clearances, these tough gloves are often used by fire brigade teams.
Dermatitis is a skin condition similar to eczema that often affects the hands when skin gets irritated and dry, especially if you have to wear gloves to work. Dermatitis gloves should be carefully selected based on their material, construction and breathability to ensure your hands aren’t overworked.
“it is the mutual responsibility of the employee and employer to ensure continued hand protection”
Fibre glass is made from minute strands of material which can easily cause irritation and itching if it gets trapped in-between your pores. That is why it is very important to use suitable gloves that are still able to properly protect your hands without reducing your ability to handle this delicate material.
Handling wet tools and materials can be disastrous, and outright dangerous, without the right protection on your hands. Gloves specifically designed for work with wet or slippery materials exist which are specially treated to allow you to effectively and safely work in wet environments.
Our hands do so much for us. They are capable of a wide variety of functions: touching, grasping, feeling, holding, manipulating, caressing, and more. They are a vitally important part of who we are and how we see ourselves. Our hands can perform extremely gentle and precise actions such as writing a letter, painting a picture, threading a needle or playing a musical instrument. Our hands also enable us to perform heavy labour, such as digging with a shovel, swinging an axe, using a jackhammer to drill through concrete, or pounding a railroad spike with a sledgehammer. We use our hands to feel whether something is rough or smooth, hot or cold, sharp or dull. We hold a child’s hand as we cross the street. In workplace injury statistics, hand injuries are highly predominant, and it is the mutual responsibility of the employee and employer to ensure continued hand protection by providing and wearing appropriate protective gloves for the tasks at hand.