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Help is at hand

23 January 2013

Despite an increasing number of construction firms adopting a mandatory glove wearing policy for their sites injuries to the hands,arms,fingers and wrists are still all too common occurrences.Donald Gillespie offers an ins

Despite an increasing number of construction firms adopting a mandatory glove wearing policy for their sites injuries to the hands,arms,fingers and wrists are still all too common occurrences.Donald Gillespie offers an insight into the real and measurable benefits of adopting a focused hand and arm protection programme

Hand and arm hazards on the UK's construction sites take many forms, from hazardous chemical substances coming into contact with the skin such as cement to cut hazards from handling sheet metal, skin damage from repeated exposure to bricks and blocks along with the weather associated risks created from working outdoors on site in the winter and the risk of a lack of grip from hands that are cold.

Despite the positive impact that safety initiatives to tackle key problem areas on site have had, one of the main challenges for the industry is still the preventable injuries to hands and arms that take place on site.

While rarely life threatening, these injuries can often result in workers having to take time off work with the increased risk of accident litigation particularly in today's 'where there's blame there's a claim' compensation climate.

Adopting a proactive hand protection programme is not simply about issuing gloves to employees or having a mandatory glove wearing policy on site.

Workers often recognise the tasks that pose a real and immediate threat to their hands and arms. Where these high-risk tasks are undertaken, workers are far more ready to adopt the PPE measures put in place.

Where PPE compliance becomes tougher however is in the everyday tasks undertaken on site, that, while carrying a very real risk to the hands and skin, may not induce an immediate injury or leave the skin looking damaged straight away.

As a result, workers may, incorrectly, consider these jobs are low risk and be more likely to take a relaxed approach to glove wearing and either not use them at all or use them infrequently.

Involving workers in glove selection The challenge for the industry is to drive home the message that just because a task doesn't result in an immediate injury, it doesn't mean the task is not hazardous.

It is no longer good enough to simply give workers gloves and tell them to wear them, without reinforcing the reasons why you are asking them to and highlighting the very real dangers of not wearing them, reinforcing the message that PPE is there to help, encouraging workers to see it as a benefit to them rather than a hindrance.

One of the critical steps in getting worker buy in to the hand protection programme can lie in the initial glove selection process, with workers involved in glove trials providing feedback on their effectiveness for the task in hand, comfort, dexterity and longevity. By doing this, staff will be more likely to wear their gloves because they have helped to choose them.

Once the glove ranges have been selected, the goal is then to encourage workers to actively continue to want to wear the gloves provided long after an induction programme or toolbox talk has finished. If this can be achieved, then the chances of preventing hand injuries and skin disease on site will increase.

A recent project with Kier Group, where research was undertaken across several of the company's sites to see how the hand protection message could be reinforced, resulted in the creation and launch of a poster campaign across the company.

The site research highlighted that there are many more opportunities available to get the hand protection message across.

While notice boards and canteen walls remain staple locations, modern urinal blocks, specific site entry points with built in poster areas and stair systems that have replaced traditional scaffold and ladders, provide added opportunities to get the safety message out to where it is needed most - in the heart of a site where people are coming into direct contact with hand hazards.

This resulted in Kier adopting a new approach to hand protection reinforcement with a poster campaign focusing on life outside work.

"Hand protection has been a focus for Kier for several years. We have identified the main tasks being undertaken on site and sourced a range of gloves relevant to those tasks that provided the right level of protection for the hazard being encountered - whether bricklaying, glazing, roofing or undertaking general handling tasks on site. In addition to provision of the right products, a major focus for us has been to educate workers on site. In the last 18 months this has developed further to make workers think about the impact that a hand injury or skin disease could have on them out of their working environment, what it could deny them and the impact it could have on them socially," said Andy Turrell, construction health manager for Kier.

"This has now become a central part of our Hand and Arm protection approach through a series of site posters that have been produced which takes a new approach to a serious message, inviting workers to "do yourself a favour and make sure you wear your gloves on site".

"If we can make people stop and think about how hand injuries can impact them and their free time, and social and family - denying them the opportunity to play sport or go out with friends - then it gives the PPE message an added real life dimension.

Hands remain the driving force for many businesses across the UK, so we need to look at every possible way to make people buy into the hand protection programme. This will be done through good hand protection selection in the first place, through on-going training programmes and through initiatives that keep reinforcing the message at the point at which they are working.

Donald Gillespie works for Marigold Industrial. Stand 54.