It's often said that our hands are the most important tools we have. And no wonder: their flexibility, strength, coordination, and sensitivity are unparalleled.

Since we use them in so many tasks, however, they are also one of the most vulnerable parts of our bodies.

Accidents due to cuts, lacerations, bumps, and impact cause painful injuries every year in a growing number of industries. And not only do they cause physical harm, but they are costly as well. Proper hand protection is crucial to keeping your workforce on the job instead of the emergency room.

Given the high cost of accidents, loss of productivity, and the pain and recovery that come from injuries, your hand protection plan can provide great benefits to you and your employees.

Know the Hazards

Before you can select the right hand protection, it’s important to know the hazards you’re dealing with and the level of protection you need.

A hazard identification assessment provides critical information for safety managers as they decide what kind of hand protection to choose. By taking an inventory of the work environment, lighting, tools, equipment, and materials that the worker uses and touches, you can learn a great deal about the safety gear they'll need.

Engaging in open communication with workers also increases awareness of the hazards. For example, observing where both of the worker’s hands are placed when working with tools and machinery yields great information about cut hazards. Crew members can also share their experiences with supervisors about how they’re using the tools and machinery, and supervisors should be open to listening to and learning from them.

Choosing Cut-Resistant Hand Protection

With the information from the hazard assessment in hand, safety managers can begin to implement a plan to prevent cuts and lacerations, including choosing the right cut-resistant gloves for the task (learn more in 12 Types of Hand Protection Gloves - and How to Choose the Right One).

What is cut resistance? It’s the ability of a material to resist damage when challenged with a moving sharp-edged object. Cut resistance is measured using standard testing equipment, and is often used when comparing the safety of various styles of gloves. The ANSI/ISEA 105-2016 Hand Protection Selection Criteria provides cut-resistant guidelines, including a numeric scale, to help supervisors and users choose suitable gloves (see A Guide to Cut Resistance Levels for more details).

It’s important to note that cut resistance in gloves isn’t the only factor in preventing cuts. Tear strength, abrasion resistance, grip, and dexterity all contribute to cut protection as well.

Impact Protection

Because our hands move quickly and frequently, painful blows can happen easily. Accidents from impact and pinching can be caused by tools, machinery, striking hard surfaces, heavy equipment, and more.

Impact-resistant gloves play a major role in preventing accidents. Innovative materials like Thermoplastic Rubber (TPR) protect vulnerable areas of the hand and the full length of the fingers. Strategically-placed dense padding can also deflect blows.

The back of the hand is particularly susceptible to injury. This part of our anatomy is just as important to keeping our hands functioning as the palms, but unfortunately, it lacks the natural padding the palm gets from bigger muscles and thicker skin. Using TPR to absorb and disperse impact is especially helpful for preventing pain from blows to this vulnerable area.

Innovations in Glove Manufacturing

An uncomfortable, ill-fitting glove is far more likely to be left on the work bench, unworn. But, the good news is that glove comfort has come a long way. Advancements in materials and design are giving supervisors more choices than ever to provide their employees with the protection, comfort, fit, and dexterity that leads to better compliance and reduced accidents.

Today, cut-resistant gloves are made from Kevlar®, High Performance Polyethylene (HPPE), steel, fiberglass, and new engineered composite yarns. They are softer, lighter, and cooler to wear than the work gloves of yesteryear.

Beyond Gloves

Providing hand protection is more than just handing out gloves.

When possible, administrative and engineering controls, including machine guards, should be used to eliminate hazards. After all, if hands are out of harms’ way, accidents can be prevented.

When gloves are required, workers should be trained by someone knowledgeable in the employer’s safety policies and processes. Some important ongoing training topics include recognizing hazards, safe practices, and the gloves’ use, fit, and care, including recognizing when gloves are no longer providing adequate protection. Employers must regularly reinforce the value of wearing gloves and practicing safe work methods.

Other factors not related to gloves but not to be overlooked include workplace set-up, working conditions, and better lighting.

Another rising workplace policy is the restriction from wearing jewelry. One of the reasons behind this restriction is that rings, watches, and bracelets can get caught in machinery or pinch points and cause accidents. Having a clear policy in place and reinforcing the potential dangers can help workers feel more comfortable removing something as special or sentimental to them as a wedding ring.

For more Hand and Arm Protection content, check out our Hand and Arm Protection Knowledge Center.