The following is adapted from Rethinking Hand Safety.
The hand is one of humankind’s greatest advantages. It sets us apart from other animals and allows us to complete any number of specialized tasks.
So, when we injure our hands, it can have a huge impact on our life. Holding a pen, buttoning a shirt, brushing your teeth—it’s all more difficult with a hand injury.
With how important hands are, protecting workers’ hands must be a top priority. One of the best ways to do that is with proper safety gloves.
Picking the right gloves can mean the difference between a worker losing or keeping a finger. Yet far too often, I see companies go about this crucial decision the wrong way.
By learning from these companies’ mistakes, you can better protect your workers’ hands. Without further ado, here’s how to not choose safety gloves.
#1: Sticking with Old Gloves
The most frustrating part of my job is when the purchaser has no interest in my experience, the availability of modern materials, or the fine balance between protection, comfort, cost, launderability, and fashion. Instead, all they want is the exact same kind of glove they’ve been using for twenty years, but cheaper.
Normally I can’t say what I’m thinking, so I’ll say it here:
Listen, friend, if you’ve been using the same gloves for twenty years, you are doing a profound disservice to your workers. Why? Because gloves have improved, tasks have undoubtedly changed, and I know for a fact that you could do a better job protecting your people’s hands.
Would you use the same cell phone you used twenty years ago? Believe it or not, gloves have improved just as much.
#2: Picking a Glove without a Hazard Assessment
Sure, workers’ hands need to be protected against cuts and abrasions. But do they also face a good chance of an impact? Occasional chemical exposure? Even if no such injuries have yet occurred, you need to find out if they could.
Far too often, gloves are chosen based only on past injuries, without trying to anticipate dangers. If you want to best protect your workers’ hands, a hazard assessment is absolutely required.
#3: Picking a Glove without Running Sample Trials with Actual Workers
You absolutely need worker feedback, and actual workers need to tell you that yes, these gloves can be used when performing this task, or no, they’re too clumsy. Actual workers need to say, “These gloves are comfortable enough—so yeah, these gloves will get worn.”
Without sample trials, you could easily wind up with hundreds of pairs of gloves that nobody wears. And gloves only provide protection if they’re worn.
#4: Letting Workers Choose Their Own Gloves with No Oversight
I’ve walked into facilities where I’ve seen upwards of 100 or 200 different kinds of gloves being worn. I’ll turn to the safety manager and say, “What’s going on? You probably need ten different kinds of gloves, not a hundred, right?” And the reply comes, “Well, Jack likes this brand, and Jill likes that brand, so we let everyone choose their own. We give them a catalog, and they just specify what they want, and we order it.”
I carefully explain that not only does this cause a staggeringly unnecessary expense, but also individual workers simply do not have the expertise to each choose their own glove. They don’t know the options, they don’t know all the issues, and they won’t put in the necessary time for the decision.
Worker input: yes. Worker free-for-all: no.
#5: Relying on a Distributor Instead of Talking Directly to Experts at a Glove Company
We once ran a secret shopper test in which we called up some major distributors and said, “Hey, we’re a metal-stamping company with 300 employees. We just had a serious hand injury, and we’re using X kind of glove—what would you recommend?”
The responses were shocking. Usually, distributors asked us exactly what kind of glove we were using, then said, “Great, I’ve got that glove, but I can give it to you for a little less than you’re paying.” Seriously? The same gloves in which our people got injured, but lower quality? No advice on upgrading for safety?
Distributors, of course, sell everything from nuts and bolts to compressors and forklift parts. It’s not surprising they can’t always offer expert opinions on gloves. If you are a concern of any size, a serious glove company should be willing to come assess your needs, run trials, and get you the right stuff.
#6: Focusing on Your Legal Liability Instead of Your Workers’ Safety
If your primary question is, “Will this glove keep OSHA off our back and prevent us from getting sued?” you are going down the wrong path. The most likely result? You will buy gloves that are bulky and overprotective—hence they won’t get worn. When someone loses a finger, you might not get sued for failure to provide adequate PPE, but if you’d bought the right kind of glove, the guy might have actually been wearing his gloves, and his finger may not have been hurt at all.
Here’s one of the most common questions I get from purchasing managers: “What do you have that protects against basically everything?”
The total glove exists, but you don’t want it. We have gloves that allow you to hold something that’s 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, but no one can wear it to hold a nail and hammer it in. If you add puncture resistance, you are adding bulk. If you make a glove waterproof, you are not just adding bulk, but discomfort. The trade-offs are real, and the trade-offs require expert advice, trials, and worker feedback.
#7: Thinking “One Person, One Pair of Gloves”
A construction worker might spend the early morning handling a jackhammer requiring vibration-protective gloves. By 10:00 a.m., she might be handling a hazardous chemical like tar or glue. Later, she might pick up a smoothing rasp requiring an entirely different kind of protection. Ideally, that worker would switch gloves for each task—with the glove associated to the task, not the worker. Too often, however, both workers and supervisors think, “That’s the glove for Jane,” instead of, “That’s the glove for jackhammering.”
The right prescription is “one task, one pair of gloves.” The more specific the better.
SAVE SOME HANDS
Choosing which gloves to buy is a vital decision. It is a choice that will directly affect the safety of your workers. A choice that can save fingers. Hands. Livelihoods. Even lives.
When it comes to safety, you can’t afford to cut corners. If you or your company is currently making one of these seven common mistakes, it’s time to make a change. It’s time to choose better gloves and save some hands.
For more advice on protecting workers’ hands, you can find Rethinking Hand Safety on Amazon.