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New glove technology provides protection, comfort and dexterity

Walk around any manufacturing plant or construction site and there's a good chance you'll see workers take off their gloves and leave them off. While this may have been necessary in the past, today's innovations in fabrics, technology and production techniques enable workers to wear protective gloves for the duration of a shift.

Still, failure to adequately protect hands costs employers millions of dollars each year. According to the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the hand is the leading body part injured at work and treated in hospital emergency departments, with acute hand and finger injuries sending over one million workers to the emergency room annually. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that 70 percent of employees experiencing hand injuries were not wearing protective gloves, the other 30 percent were wearing gloves, which were either ill-fitting or the wrong type for the job.

There are about 110,000 lost time hand injuries every year, and the average hand injury claim exceeds $6,000, with each lost time Workers' Compensation claim reaching nearly $7,500, according to the BLS and the National Safety Council.

The most common objection to glove use relates to the real and perceived comfort of the gloves. According to a recent article in Industrial Safety & Hygiene News (ISHN), Taking off the gloves, there's no reason for non-compliance, "more work gloves are now ergonomically designed to the shape of the hands, providing the flexibility required to perform tasks in fast-paced manufacturing environments. Innovative knitting technology varies the stitching in high stress areas - such as across the knuckles and back of the hand - to improve fit and allow hand movement for greater dexterity and less fatigue." Newer products are available that incorporate moisture management technology to significantly reduce perspiration build-up inside gloves in hot and humid environments.

Additionally, modern work gloves breathe, keeping hands cool and dry while protecting against job-related hazards such as cuts and abrasions.

Another common excuse for not wearing gloves is the need to don different types of gloves for particular exposures. According to the authors of the ISHN article, Jason Kokoszka and Rafael Manrique, more gloves on the market today are designed for high levels of protection against multiple hazards. Some of today's new technology includes a liquid-impermeable layer added to knit gloves to prevent oil or lubricants from making incidental contact with the wearer's skin. Some cut-resistant gloves blend high performance polyethylene yarn with a polyurethane palm coating to provide ANSI Level 2 cut protection and ANSI Level 5 abrasion resistance. In addition, many gloves may be washed and re-used without reducing their cut protective properties, thereby extending the products' service life.

Other state-of-the-art technology combines engineered, synthetic and natural fibers into high performance yarns to offer advanced levels of cut protection and dexterity. For example, a new hand protection product for the food industry combines advanced cut protection with spandex so the gloves conform to the hands and retain an ergonomic shape during use.

Concerns about lower productivity and glove use have also been addressed by the new technology. "Products are available today that offer an ultralight feel with flexibility, tactility and bare hand-like sensation. Special coatings can help keep hands cool and dry but at the same time offer ANSI Level 2 cut protection and ANSI Level 3 abrasion resistance to protect workers in assembly, packaging, machining and stamping applications."

Grip is another consideration in many plant, oil field and construction applications. Microscopic channels used as a coating treatment in work gloves minimize the force required to maintain a firm grip on wet or oily objects and reduce hand and arm fatigue and improve dexterity. Current technology uses microscopic channels to wick away oil and moisture, thereby reducing the need for excessive grip force and the resulting fatigue.

The one thing that has not changed is the importance of fit. All work gloves should fit and function like a second skin-neither too large, which can interfere with hand movement or become caught in machinery, nor too small, which can constrict hand movements and result in perspiration and fatigue.

The variety of potential occupational hand injuries makes selecting the right pair of gloves challenging. Conducting an assessment will provide the opportunity to observe workers on the job and identify whether the gloves they are presently using provide the performance expected or need to be replaced. The assessment will also reveal whether workers wear hand protection for the duration of the shift.

One valuable resource for glove selection is the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) 105-2011 Standard for Hand Protection Selection Criteria. The standard provides a consistent, numeric-scale method for manufacturers to rate their products against certain contaminants and exposures including puncture and abrasion resistance, chemical permeation and degradation, detection of holes, heat and flame resistance, and vibration reduction and dexterity.

Conducting safe, scientific tests using typical hazards is another important way to determine what works best. Glove manufacturers should be willing and able to help.

There are many helpful online resources. This article lists the types of industrial safety gloves and tools to help choose what type will get the job done efficiently and safely.