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Hands that do dishes...

09 March 2015

Many people will remember the old washing-up advertisement from the 1980s, which extolled the kindness of the ‘mild green’ solution to the hands – just one example of the promotion of products in the home to respect, protect, and keep hands safe. But in the workplace, says Clair Weston, marketing manager, Uvex (UK), individuals often don’t take the same amount of care.

Many people will remember the old Fairy Liquid advertisement from the 1980s, which extolled the kindness of the ‘mild green’ washing-up liquid to the hands – just one example of the promotion of products in the home to respect, protect, and keep hands safe.
But in the workplace, individuals often don’t take the same care of their hands as they may do in the home, letting down their guard and not giving hand care and protection the thought it needs and deserves to prevent accident and injury.

HSE statistics show there were more than 28,500 over-7-day injuries to hands, wrists, fingers, thumbs and upper limbs in 2013/14, not including less serious or unreported injuries: a huge amount of pain, distress and lost productivity for workers and their families. And even though it was always women depicted at the kitchen sink in the old ads, men sustain more workplace injuries than women.

Hands are often taken for granted, but they play a vital role in everyday life, being used for writing, playing sport, cooking, greeting people, or simply touching, as well as working and earning a living.

Health and safety professionals and procurement managers need to ensure the products used by workers are helping to protect them. They need to take care with washing and hygiene, providing the right liquids, but by far the most efficient way to protect the workforce further is to supply reputable and suitable safety gloves.

Protective gloves
Safety gloves have a wide and varied role, protecting workers from physical harm such as cuts and abrasions, chemicals, impact, heat and cold, oil and grease, and providing good grip. These days there is a huge range of glove solutions made from a variety of raw materials for most industrial sectors. Although these gloves may fulfil all UK and EU legal requirements to provide safe personal protective equipment, total protection will not be achieved unless the correct glove type for both the person and the specific task in hand are selected. 

Choosing the right glove
Selecting the appropriate glove to ensure hands and wrists are fully protected at work need not be a daunting task, although there are many factors to consider.

The first – fit – may seem obvious, but the correct size must be specified to avoid accidents if gloves come off because they are too big and excess material at the end of the fingers can become trapped or pulled into machinery. In contrast, gloves that are too small can affect blood circulation, gloves should fit like a second skin to ensure workers are comfortable and so are happy to wear them.

Second, dermatology. Work-related skin disease is common and can be severe. Working with wet hands, and contact with soaps, allergens, irritants and cleaning materials are the most common causes of contact dermatitis, however, gloves should be neutral in that they do not cause or exacerbate a previous condition. Therefore, there is a growing concern for gloves to be dermatologically tested so they don’t irritate skin.

Third, the relevant EU Standards that reputable safety gloves must comply with. These are:

  • EN 420 general requirements for protective gloves
  • EN 374 protection from chemicals and micro-organisms
  • EN 388 protection from mechanical risks such as cuts
  • EN 407 protection from thermal hazards
  • EN 511 protection from cold
  • EN 421 protection from ionising radiation and radioactive contamination

Every glove does not, however, have to comply with every standard, just the one that covers its use.

Finally, the materials used in the liner and coatings can assist with tasks undertaken. Cotton liners easily absorb sweat making them ideal for dry and possibly strenuous tasks, whereas a Nylon liner is lightweight and dexterous, drying quickly. The type and way yarns are combined contribute to a gloves effectiveness. The use of high cut resistant materials such as Dyneema® are universally recognised but we are also seeing Bamboo intertwined which helps regulate hand temperature and delivers noticeable comfort.

The quality and type of coating can also assist the wearer. Nitrile coatings are durable offer increased grip in dry areas but excelling in damp or oily ones, helping to reduce over-exertion and fatigue. Polyurethane (PU) coatings are best suited to dry environments delivering high abrasion resistance and flexibility. A combination of nitrile and PU gives the best of both worlds delivering high grip and abrasion resistance across a multitude of areas of application.

The meaning of the symbols on the glove
Good safety gloves carry a variety of information on the back to help wearers pick the right model. Apart from the name and/or model number of the glove, its size and the manufacturer, there should be a CE mark, indicating that it conforms to EU health and safety legislation.

The EN number and icon specify which EU standard the glove complies with. The numbers underneath the icon indicate its mechanical performance levels in various tests, such as abrasion, cuts, tears and penetration, or against a range of chemicals, cold, heat or fire. The number of the testing institute is also given. Good gloves may also be marked with the Oeko-Tex® Standard 100, a stringent worldwide testing system that certifies the glove is free from harmful substances.

Other factors to look for
Gloves need to keep the hand healthy and where possible should allow the hands to breathe. Checking the glove liner to ensure that its coating has not broken through, not only demonstrates high quality manufacturing processes and materials but also ensures that any chemicals used in the coating do not irritate the skin or cause unnecessary abrasion when undertaking tasks.  They need to allow great dexterity and precision for close work as well as optimum resistance to the identified hazards. One of the newest innovations in safety gloves is those that can be used safely and effectively on increasingly prevalent industrial touchscreens.

Finally the country where gloves are manufactured is important. Gloves made in the EU are governed by REACH regulations, meaning wearers can be sure they will offer adequate protection against harmful chemicals.  Gloves from other, less regulated countries, may not offer the same security.