How to Keep Hands Safe from Cuts and Impact
Keeping hands safe from impact and lacerations takes more than just PPE.
Hands are the most important tool a worker has. The hands are a marvel of physiology - an arrangement of tiny bones and impressively strong muscles that have a high degree of flexibility, coordination, and sensitivity.
They are, however, as vulnerable as they are helpful. That's because the hands are not only used in a variety of task, but they are often at the front and center of the work - in the line of fire, so to speak. This places them at higher risk of various types of injury, from lacerations and chemical burns to abrasions and crushing from pinch points.
In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that of the 286,810 non-fatal occupational injuries to upper extremities in 2018, 123,990 (43%) involved hands.
Consequences of Hand Injuries
Since the hands are used to carry out a wide range of activities, severe hand injuries can be significantly debilitating. In addition to causing pain or distress, they can also prevent a worker from carrying out their work, making use of their specialized skills, or completing daily living tasks with ease.
Since they are often disabling, injuries to the hand can often result in a significant loss of productivity and require an extended period of recovery before the worker can resume their usualy work.
These injuries are, moreover, very costly. The National Safety Council estimates that a hand injury can cost anywhere from $540 to $26,000.
Hand safety, then, is a critical component of any company's health and safety program. In this post, we'll go over ways to protect workers from two common types of hand injury: cuts and injuries from impact.
(Learn about The 6 Key Elements of an Effective Safety Program)
Know the Hand Hazards in Your Workplace
In order to select the right type of hand protection for your workers, you must first know the exact hazards they face.
Conducting a thorough hazard assessment is the first step to ensuring the safety of your workers' hands. This assessment provide you with critical insights into the hazards that arise from the work environment, the tools and equipment used, and the materials handled.
Your hazard assessment should include input from the workers themselves. Open and ongoing communication with front-line employees will help you understand where workers place their hands while using machinery, how they hold their tools, and other factors that might not be obvious to someone who doesn't do the work on a daily basis. .
This ongoing communication should include regular toolbox talks to remind workers of the hazards they face, what they can do to avoid injury, and give them an opportunity to voice their concerns. Ideally, these should be conducted on a daily basis by a supervisor or a member of the safety team.
(Learn more in 6 Things to Consider When Planning Toolbox Talks)
Choosing Cut-Resistant Hand Protection
If your hazard assessment reveals cut or laceration hazards, employees should be equipped with cut-resistant gloves.
These gloves have the material, composition, and thickness required to prevent sharp objects from slicing through them and reaching the wearer's hand.
Cut-resistant gloves should be matched to the laceration hazards that workers face on the job. ANSI/ISEA 105-2016 provides guidelines and selection criteria for hand safety gloves, ranking the protection according to nine cut-resistant levels:
- A1: light cut hazards (200g)
- A2: light/medium cut hazards (500g)
- A3: light/medium cut hazards (1,000g)
- A4: medium cut hazards (1,500g)
- A5: medium/heavy cut hazards (2,200g)
- A6: high cut hazards (3,000g)
- A7: high cut hazards (4,000g)
- A8: high cut hazards (5,000g)
- A9: high cut hazards (6,000g)
Level A1 gloves are suitable for tasks involving minor sharp edges, like those that might be encountered by warehouse workers. Levels A6 to A9 provide heavier duty protection required in metal manufacturing, glass production, and other high-hazard work.
Other factors should also guide your selection. Depending on the type of work carried out, the gloves may also need abrasion resistance, strong grip, or a high level of flexibility.
(Find out more in A Guide to Cut Resistance Levels)
While cut-resistant gloves can play an important role in keeping hands safe, they are not designed to protect them from impact.
Workers at risk of painful blows to the hand, pinching caused by machinery, or impact from tools or equipment should be outfitted with impact-resistant gloves.
Materials like Thermoplastic Rubber (TPR) protect vulnerable areas of the hand and the full length of the fingers. Strategically placed dense padding can deflect blows - especially to the back of the hand, which is particularly susceptible to injury. The back of the hand lacks the natural padding that the palm gets from bigger muscles and thicker skin. Using TPR gloves to aborb and disperse impact can make up for this vulnerability.
Like cut-resistant gloves, your level of impact protection should match the type of hazards faced. The more severe the impacts, the thicker and more substantial the impact protection components should be.
ANSI/ISEA 138 classifies a glove's impact resistance according to three levels based on the amount of force that the glove can absorb, measured in Kilonewtons:
- Performance Level 1: < 9 Kn (mean transmitted force)
- Performance Level 2: < 6.5 Kn (mean transmitted force)
- Performance Level 3: < 4 Kn (mean transmitted force)
The higher the performance level, the less amount of force is transmitted to the hand and, therefore, the greater the protection.
Innovations in Glove Manufacturing
An uncomfortable, ill-fitting glove is more likely to be left on the workbench where it can't provide any protection. Fortunately, advancements in materials and design have given safety professionals with more choices than ever, allowing them to provide their employees not only the protection their hands need, but also the comfort, fit, and dexterity that will encourage compliance.
Today, cut-resistant gloves are made from Kevlar®, High-Performance Polyethylene (HPPE), steel, fiberglass, and new engineered composite yarns. These re softer, lighter, and cooler than more traditional work glove materials.
(Learn more in Safety Glove Materials: What to Look For)
Beyond Safety Gloves
While safety gloves provide essential protection to a worker's hands, they are rarely sufficient on their own. Hand protection goes beyond selecting the right safety gloves and includes a variety of other hazard control measures, such as installing machine guards, purchasing safer tools, and ensuring that blades and cutting tools are sharpened regularly.
When gloves are required, workers should be trained by someone knowledgeable in the company's safety policies and processes. Some important ongoing training topics include:
- Recognizing hazards and knowing when gloves must be worn
- Safe practices
- The use and care of safety gloves
- How to recognize when a glove no longer provides adequate protection
Employers must regularly reinforce the importance of wearing gloves and establish work procedures to identify and control exposure to cut, laceration, and impact hazards.
While knives and other cutting tools may appear simple and straightforward, providing employees training on how to use them properly can decrease the risk of injury. Workers should also be encouraged to keep their blades sharp and discouraged from using cutting tools for non-intended purposes, such as prying something loose or using them as impromptu screwdrivers.
The same applies to impact hazards. Workers should be trained in the proper use of hammers, presses, and other equipment that could cause injury through impact.
For more Hand and Arm Protection content, check out our Hand and Arm Protection Knowledge Center.