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Helping hands

20 November 2023

Hand protection plays an important part in safeguarding the energy sector. Nicole Blignaut explores the benefits.

Every workplace is required to adhere to standard operating procedures and recognised PPE practices, including the renewable energy sector. However, occasionally it’s necessary to readdress PPE practices and products to ensure complete hazard mitigation and injury prevention.

The changing energy landscape

Globally, the energy landscape is undergoing rapid transitions triggered by shifts in technological developments, regulations, consumer preferences and investor sentiment. Wind power is gaining prominence as we strive for net-zero emissions by 2050, a mutual target agreed by over 70 countries. 

Vulnerable hands

Amidst these changes, it’s essential to maintain safety measures. Despite the hand's incredible dexterity, it remains vulnerable. Hands contain some of the densest areas of nerves and tendons in the body. In the UK sector, hand and wrist injuries accounted for over 15,000 non-fatal workplace injuries in 2021-2022, this is 24.3% of the total non-fatal injuries (22.9% of all non-fatal injuries in Ireland during the same period). In 2016-2017, these same types of injuries accounted for 28.2% of the total non-fatal injuries, indicating the ongoing need for enhanced safety measures for this type of injury. Consequently, these injuries lead to an annual loss of productivity due to workdays lost or reduced ability to work at full capacity.

The offshore energy challenge

In the offshore energy industry, one of the world's riskiest occupations, decision-makers often fixate on a single primary hazard, leading to the neglect of secondary factors. Hand and finger injuries make up a significant portion of incidents on drilling rigs, highlighting the importance of cut-resistant gloves. However, choosing a glove solely for cut resistance features can compromise dexterity, increasing the risk of accidents. Inadequate dexterity can also result in tool drops and injuries to other body parts.

The overlooked factor: Grip

Another vital but frequently overlooked factor is grip. Grip effectiveness depends on ambient conditions, apparatus conditions, and the gripping surface. In the offshore industry, reduced grip can lead to slips and impact-style injuries, especially when handling oily parts in wet conditions.

Wind power sector needs

In the wind power sector, workers servicing wind turbine nacelles are exposed to various weather conditions and must climb hundreds of ladder rungs. While fall arrest PPE is considered, gloves which can help to reduce the risk of falls are often overlooked. Gloves with excellent dexterity and grip help workers maintain a secure hold on ladder rungs, reducing the likelihood of accidents caused by ‘over grip’ fatigue.

Additionally, gloves with a cushioning grip surface can minimize vibrations from the ladder and prevent bruising on the heel of the hands due to repetitive impacts during the climb. There is a delicate balance between the thickness of the palm surface required to dampen impact and vibrations, and the thinness required to comfortably flex fingers to maintain grip control.

Don’t neglect secondary cut hazards

Workers using wire rope hoists to transport tools to the top of wind turbines face unique hazards, such as small wires protruding from the wire rope. Unlike a 'slice' cut risks caused by sharp edges, these wires tend to 'puncture' a glove first and then 'tear' downwards. Understanding these cut hazards is crucial when selecting gloves to ensure worker protection.

The importance of wearing gloves

Remarkably, 70% of hand injuries occur when workers don't wear gloves. Often, workers remove gloves to operate touch screen tablets. To prevent workers from unnecessarily donning their gloves, gloves can feature conductive coatings, allowing the use of touch screen tablets while keeping hands protected.

In conclusion, while standard operating procedures and recognised PPE practices are vital, the renewable energy sector must remain vigilant for hazards. This vigilance is crucial for safeguarding a workforce, especially amidst the sector’s rapid growth. It's not just the primary hazards that demand attention, it's the often overlooked secondary factors in hand protection that require careful consideration

Nicole Blignaut is head of customer engagement at Polyco HealthlineFor more information, visit www.polyco.co.uk