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Handling it Right

Published: 22nd Jul 2013

In this article I will discuss the importance of gloves for hand protection from a procurement professional’s perspective.

I will also cover some areas related to safety and look at existing codes or norms relevant to the selection of gloves, plus guide readers through the requirements to consider during this process.

This information is very important prior to any purchase decision, and accordingly it is important for the procurement professional to be aware of it. When a procurement professional decides to acquire gloves for his/her organisation’s workforce, he/she has to bear the following thought in mind: Good gloves are pivotal to good hand protection.

The reader will recognise how the right selection of gloves can increase their business’s wealth by reducing the injuries which cost organisations all over the word a huge amount of money.

Statistics back this up. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 250,000 serious injuries to fingers, hands and wrists each year. In a recent year, nearly 8,000 of these were amputations.

The UK government recorded 22.7 million days lost due to work related illness and 4.3 million due to workplace injuries. The workplace suffers huge costs due to injury, including fatalities – an estimated £5.2 billion in the UK. Hand injuries account for one third of all injuries at work, while another third are chronic injuries – then there’s the lost working time, and, sadly, those who suffer permanent disabilities to consider.

All the above shed a light on the importance of choosing hand protection and the appropriate type of gloves to guarantee the proper protection for the hands. Moreover, when talking about PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), gloves are potentially one of the most important items to be purchased.

Important considerations

You might think getting gloves for your workers is a very easy task, and at the end of the day it’s gloves we’re talking about – not rocket science. Right, it’s not a complicated task, but it is a very important and sensitive subject which should be taken seriously by procurement professionals.

There are many types of gloves that are used for different types of protection subject to the work environment and associated hazards. There are also associated standards and norms that the procurement manager has to look at.

Qualities of gloves, genuine source and to be fabricated from safe materials are crucial in the selection criteria.

What are the main factors that can affect the selection decision of a glove? How do you choose the right gloves for the job? Is protecting hands related to productivity and ROI? Answering these questions accurately would suggest that the purchasing of gloves may not be as easy as you might think.

In the United States, for example, The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has hand protection regulations that organisations and its labour force must follow. According to OSHA, gloves must be suitable for the kind of hazard associated with the work.

Occupational Health and Safety departments (OH&S) have applied similar safety regulations in commonwealth countries including the UK, Canada and Australia. They not only look to the safety aspects, but also extend to how well the gloves should fit and be comfortable for the user.

These regulations and international standards and norms reflect the importance of considering hand protection with the appropriate PPE. The World Health Organization takes a step further, suggesting that along with hand washing, the correct use of gloves can play an important part in protecting patient safety, and contributes to saving lives by preventing the spread of germs due to direct hand contact.

Standards and codes that can be considered during the gloves’ purchase can be but are not limited to: OSHA Regulations (29 CFR 1910.132 and 29 CFR 1910.138), EN 420 (AS/NZS 2161.2:1998), EN 374, EN 388 and EN 455.

The importance of hands

After the eyes, hands are the most important part of your body to help you function in the workplace – we need our hands to handle everything. Some would even argue that hands are more important than eyes, since many people manage to live without sight, but not many manage to live independently without hands.

Obviously, the hand worker can’t live without his or her own hands since these are his or her tools of production.

Unfortunately, these important tools are vulnerable to wear and tear. Accordingly, they should be protected against hazards such as dirt, chemicals, fuels, grease, solvents, oil and other harmful substances associated with working environments. To keep our hands safe, they should be protected by the proper PPE – the gloves.

Gloves are effective PPE

Because your hands are two of the most important and frequently used parts of your body, it’s critical to protect them at all costs. If you take proper care of your hands and think before acting on the job, you’ll greatly reduce your risk of a serious hand injury.

OSHA assessments and statistics show that employees face many potential injuries to their hands and arms. Potential hazards include skin absorption of harmful substances, chemical or thermal burns, electrical dangers, bruises, abrasions, cuts, punctures, fractures and amputations.

OSHA makes it very clear that selecting the type of protective gloves that align with the type of work and associated hazard is crucial.

There is another important reason why we have to wear gloves when doing work by hand, which is that some products we handle need to be protected from the worker’s hands.

Some kinds of industries, for example, electronic circuits, can be affected from the contamination of oil and dust that stick to hands and therefore, we need gloves to protect the product against the worker’s hands.

Gloves are not only a very effective safety tool to protect our hands against hazards, but an excellent option to guard sensitive products against our hands.

How to choose the right glove

More important than wearing a glove is selecting the right type of gloves that fit with the job in the first place. What kind of factors and issues do you have to look at when you selecting the appropriate glove? And what do you have to consider before making the decision of glove purchase?

The selection of gloves should go through several steps. First of all you have to identify the necessity of the gloves and ascertain whether you need them to protect your hands or your product. Secondly, you have to identify the related hazards.

Usually the type of hazard relates to the type of industry. Are your workers dealing with hard objects that can cause injuries, cuts, scrapes or abrasions? Are they dealing with chemicals? Is protection required against viruses, bacteria, blood-borne pathogens or body fluids? Are your workers dealing with extremely hot or cold products? Are they dealing with electricity so you need to protect them from any power transmission and electrical shocks? Do you need permanent use or disposable gloves? If you get the correct and appropriate answers for these questions, then you will be able to go to the next step and select the appropriate gloves for the hazard.

Thirdly, most glove manufactures have several types that can protect hands from most of the hazards discussed above. The list of the different materials that can be used for the fabrication of gloves is long and it will include, but is not limited to: cotton, vinyl, latex, leather, PVC, Butyl, Nitrile, Keviar, Viton, Spectra, Neoprene, Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVA) Hypalon – and more.

Some gloves also come in a combination of materials, such as leather palm gloves with cotton backing, which allow the worker to get the robust use from the leather, while keeping the hands breathable from the cotton backing.

An example of the wrong selection of gloves would be choosing latex gloves when dealing with oil, since oil degrades latex, rendering the gloves useless. Furthermore, if you make the wrong gloves’ selection, they will themselves become a hazard and will have negative impact on the hand, or the work activity, instead of being a means of protection.

The importance of comfort

We’re still not done with considerations for glove selection. The fourth thing you have to consider before making your buying decision is the size of the glove and whether it will be comfortable for the user or not. Gloves should be comfortable while achieving their purpose – protection and safety. Work gloves are usually considered comfortable when a worker is able to perform his or her tasks without removing the gloves. If the worker can’t perform work while wearing the gloves, then they become an obstacle for him, eliminating the glove as a safety tool.

For example, workers within the construction industry, the industry I came from, often wear leather gloves because they recognise this product as providing a high level of comfort. When workers must join wires or handle small parts such as nails, however, they usually find leather construction gloves are too large to perform these types of tasks. Their hands grow tired quickly and may sweat and cramp. Leather gloves are usually too uncomfortable for these types of fine detail tasks, so workers will take them off, exposing their hands to work related hazards. Any time workers remove their gloves for one task, the risk exists that they may not put them on again for another task, which increases their chance of getting hurt on the job.

To achieve a high level of comfort, gloves should fit and function like a second skin. Properly fitted gloves follow the hand's natural configuration and can help reduce mechanical stress. This is why considering the size of the gloves is so important. Since one size of glove will not fit all workers, it is important to consider gloves that are available in half sizes as well as whole sizes.

The question is, how can the procurement professional know for sure that the selected gloves will be comfortable on the worker’s hands? Frankly speaking it is not an easy task, but you can be closer to achieving it by looking carefully on the product details and literature to gauge if the gloves will have comfort limitations. This can give you an indication, but it is better to get samples of a selection of styles from different manufacturers and let your workers try them out.

After getting feedback from the users you can then make your selection decision – but be sure the feedback is not based exclusively on comfort, but on the gloves’ ability to provide the level of protection needed for the application. Furthermore, workers should also receive training about the products they are using and their protective advantages, so they can perform tasks with a higher level of confidence.

The procurement of safety items should not be price sensitive and the selection should be based on a product’s compliance with specifications and safety standards and norms. Remember that before making a final decision you have to consider other factors, such as the length of the gloves i.e. is it only to protect the hand, or do you need it also to protect part of the arm? Do you need a safety cuff to be part of the gloves for easy slip off when, for example, it is caught in the machinery? Remember that we are buying the gloves to protect the hands of the workers, so any other factor that can affect hand safety should be considered and this varies between different kinds of industries.

Your productivity and ROI

As I said at the beginning of this article, hand injuries cost industry millions every year. As noted, they make up more than 23% of total workplace accidents and are ranked second when it comes to lost workdays.

Obviously, when a worker has an accident, he or she will be absent until their recovery. This absence will be covered with compensation and will cost the organisation money, while labour is sitting at home doing nothing that can benefit the business. Furthermore, if he or she has a permanent disability to the hand, or even with a less permanent injury such as an abrasion to the fingers, the ability to perform the work will be affected or, in many cases, mean the worker may be unable to do the same activity due to his or her injury.

According to OSHA, around 81% of injuries could have been prevented with PPE – especially safety gloves. The statistics also show that 90% of permanently disabling injuries within the workplace were cuts to the hands and arms, demonstrating the negative side effects on both the worker and workplace when safety gloves are not worn.

When the absenteeism percentage increases due to workplace injuries it costs an organisation time and money, which will affect the value of the Return on Investments (ROI) you are expecting from your business. This shows how crucial worker safety is to company performance and its competitive edge.

When workers are injured and disabled they will be less productive and in many cases need to be replaced. Generally speaking, workers’ replacement costs the organisation a good amount of money which will be consumed in the hiring process and time spent for training the replacement in how to do the work as well and effectively as his/her predecessor.

Furthermore, workers can become de-motivated and may underperform if they feel they are not operating in a safe work environment. This will impact not only on morale, but affect the overall performance of the organisation, threatening its competitive position in the marketplace. This is why hand protection is essential to a safe and productive working environment.

Conclusion

Hand protection is necessary to prevent hand injuries in the workplace. It reduces costs resulting from absent workers, thereby reducing the overall recovery cost sustained by the organisation.

A careful selection of gloves is very important before making your final purchase decision. As a procurement professional, you have to develop a detailed glove specification based on the appropriate health and safety standards, codes and norms. This should be based on the feedback from your workers who were involved in evaluating the gloves.

It will also be based on the hazard encountered. The ergonomic issues have to be addressed from worker feedback to ensure that the selected gloves will be comfortable and will fit, and that the style of glove is fit the purpose.

Glove selection should be related to the specification and safety norms rather than the price. Therefore, when selecting a glove, and after considering and validating the above factors, procurement professionals have to look to a product that will be fit for purpose and provide the protection and safety for the hands. The decision should in no way be based exclusively on the price, as worker safety is not a subject that we can afford to compromise on.

Published: 22nd Jul 2013 in Health and Safety Middle East

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Ali Sadeddin is a mechanical engineer who has been involved in the construction field for more than 20 years. Having more than 14 years of intensive exposure to procurement and operations in the construction sector, he is currently serving as Procurement Director (Head of Procurement) at Khidmah LLC, a leading company in facility and property management.